At the end of the 19th century, osteopath William Sutherland observed that the bones of the skull, particularly those at the sides of the head, had the potential to move. Investigating further, he noticed a rhythmic movement between the cranial bones in the head and the large sacral bone at the base of the spine. This, he concluded, was due to the pulse of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) as it moves around the brain and down the spinal cord. He found that he could feel the tidal motion of CSF in his patients and used this in both the diagnosis and treatment of bodily disorders. This way of working has subsequently been developed by many other practitioners, and is known as craniosacral therapy.
Rhythmic contractions in the brain are said occur 8-12 times a minute and these can be constricted by a lack of movement in both the cranial and sacral bones, invariably leading to illness. Other longer ‘tides’ have also been found to exist, occurring once every 25 and 100 seconds, respectively. It is the job of the craniosacral therapist to detect any abnormality in the cerebrospinal pulse and correct it by using gentle, non-invasive pressure on the areas of the head and body that are restricting natural bodily rhythms.
Constriction can occur through the buildup of stress, bad posture and physical injury, and may go undetected for years, manifesting only as a feeling of being ‘not quite right‘. Once the healthy movement of CSF is restored, the ability of the body to heal itself is greatly strengthened, and many ongoing health problems are thought to resolve as a result.
Craniosacral therapy, however, is not without its critics who suggest that although there is evidence of the presence of cerebrospinal rhythms, the possibility of a practitioner detecting and using these is limited. Further, there are no studies on craniosacral therapy that clearly indicate its use for specific conditions. This is not an uncommon criticism of complementary health practices, though, as the cost of setting up and analyzing such trials are can be prohibitive, resulting in few reliable studies.
Regardless of the criticism, craniosacral therapy has become relatively popular in the past several decades due to its gentle and non-invasive methods. It is carried out fully clothed and, as with other forms of osteopathy and chiropractic treatment, with the patient lying on a couch. During treatment, the therapist will use their hands to first detect the cerebrospinal pulse, and then gently make adjustments that allow the spinal tide to flow unobstructed. Many patients report feeling very relaxed and light-headed throughout the session. The number of sessions and frequency required will depend on the type and longevity of the problem.
As the number of patients presenting with stress and postural problems increases, the popularity of craniosacral therapy is also expected to rise, especially given the limited resources of conventional medicine to address these issues.