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Cranio Sacral Therapy

cranio-sacral therapy

By Fi Dann MSc BSc

Cranio sacral therapy (CST) is a subtle and profound healing form, which assists the body's natural ability to heal itself. At the moment cranial work is mostly known as a method of assisting babies to recover from a traumatic birth, and dealing with colic.  This is only a fraction of the people that can be helped by Cranio sacral therapy. 

Who can Cranio Sacral Therapy help?
By complementing the body's natural healing processes, Cranial Sacral Therapy is increasingly used as a preventive health measure for its ability to bolster resistance to disease, and is effective for a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction, including:

Migraine Headaches
Chronic Neck and Back Pain
Hearing problems and dizziness
Movement and co-ordination problems
Autism and Aspergers
Central Nervous System Disorders
Orthopedic Problems
Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries

Balance problems
Learning Disabilities
Chronic Fatigue
Emotional Difficulties
Stress and Tension-Related Problems
Jaw problems
Pregnancy issues
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Surgical recovery

How does it work?
Cranial Sacral Therapy is a gentle, hands-on method of checking and improving the functioning of the cranio sacral system - comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.  This goes all around the brain and down to the base of the spine.  Normally the cerebral-spinal fluid circulates all through the area around the brain and spinal cord, pumped through by small movements of the occiput bone at the back of the skull and sacrum at the base of the spine.  

If the membranes around the brain and spinal cord are twisted or tense, or the bones of the skull and spine are not moving well, the fluid around the nervous system cannot circulate properly.  Toxins build up in the fluid as it stagnates and there are fewer nutrients available to the tissues in and around the nervous system.

In addition, a semi-closed hydraulic system controls the flow of fluid into and out of the membranes. This system is responsible for the production, circulation, and reabsorption of the cerebrospinal fluid. It maintains the physiological environment in which the brain and nervous system develop and function.

Typically, the production and reabsorption of the craniosacral fluid within the dura mater- (the thick membrane around the central nervous system) results in a continuous rise and fall of pressure. Generally, homeostatic mechanisms allow for self-correction and self-balancing within the body. But if for some reason the body is unable to accommodate these pressure changes, a buildup of pressure can occur which can contribute to dysfunction and ill health, especially within the central nervous system. The musculoskeletal, vascular, lymphatic, respiratory, and endocrine systems can also be affected.

An experienced craniosacral therapist can palpate the craniosacral rhythm anywhere on the body. A lack of symmetry in this rhythm can help indicate where the problem lies, though it will not necessarily reveal precisely what the problem is. Restoring the symmetry often results in a reduction in abnormal symptoms.

The fluid pressure rises and falls about ten times per minute. This rhythm is independent of the respiratory or cardiac rhythm. The inflow of cerebral spinal fluid is turned off or on as signals are given to it, and the volume within the sac rises and falls correspondingly. When the volume rises to a certain point, stretch receptors in the system cause the production of fluid to stop temporarily. 

When fluid pressure drops and the volume goes down, then the stretch receptors relax. The receptors, mostly located in the sutures (the joints between skull bones) are capable of slight movement. The bones are attached to the membranes. When the fluid expands, then the sutures stretch. 

These are the sutures that cranio-sacral therapists work on using a soft touch generally no greater than the pressure you can comfortably bear on your eyeball, approx. 5 grams.  Practitioners release restrictions in the craniosacral system and the fascial system (diaphragm, pelvic floor etc) to improve the functioning of the central nervous system and body.   Movement of the craniosacral fluid is improved and the pressure of the fluid in the cranio-sacral system is balanced appropriately.

What will you feel?
In a typical cranio sacral session, you will usually lie (or sometimes sit) fully clothed on a treatment couch. The therapist will make contact by placing their hands lightly on your body and head and tuning in to what is happening by ‘listening’ with their hands. Contact is made carefully and gently so it is very relaxing and soothing, and suitable for all ages.  It is also very safe for women in pregnancy, those with osteoporosis and for babies.

The first thing you will probably notice is a sense of deep relaxation, which will generally last throughout the session. With subsequent treatments this release of tension often extends into everyday life. Some people feel the tension unwind and move with it, others almost or even do fall asleep on the table.  It is very popular in our practice as a de-stress tool as well as for addressing specific concerns.  

Also seen occasionally is the release of emotional stress or trauma.  The work can address physical aches and pains, acute and chronic disease, emotional or psychological disturbances, or simply help to develop well being, health and vitality.

Who developed Cranio Sacral Therapy?
CST was pioneered and developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger following extensive scientific studies from 1975 to 1983 at Michigan State University, where he served as a clinical researcher and Professor of Biomechanics.  Scientists used to think that the bones of the skull fused as we reached adulthood and were not capable of movement.  

This has been shown to be inaccurate as there are very small movements possible between each bone in the skull.  Those with sensitive hand may be able to feel the subtle movements of the skull during each inhalation and exhalation of the breath.  There is slight widening and shortening of the skull on inhalation, lengthening and narrowing on exhalation.

John Upledger discovered the cranio sacral rhythm as a process of the body when he was assisting on an operation to remove a calcium plaque on a man’s dura mater membrane.  “We wanted to maintain the intactness of the membrane itself, so the membrane was not cut—though usually it would have been. As a result, the integrity of the hydraulic system I mentioned previously was maintained.  I observed the rise and fall of fluid pressure I’ve described. It was actually the first glimpse at a physiological system that had not yet been recognized as such.”

How do I find out more?
Dr Fi Dann is contactable on 01920 465097 at Aware Chiropractic Centre or email

For further information visit the following websites:

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