Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a controversial therapy used in an attempt to improve health. CST involves using gentle hand and finger touch, movements, and pressure to move parts of the body. The word comes from the terms cranium and sacrum. Cranium refers to the head and sacrum refers to a bone in the lower spine above the tailbone.
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CST focuses on the nervous system, especially the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is always moving and circulating around the spinal cord and brain.
CST therapists claim that CSF moves in a smooth, rhythmic motion. As the fluid moves, expanding and contracting movements occur in other parts of the body. CST therapists claim that there are roughly 10 to 14 cycles of this movement per minute. People trained to perform CST use their hands to feel these movements. They claim to be able to feel abnormalities or blockages in these movements. CST therapists use a very small amount of pressure with their fingertips and hands to correct abnormal or blocked movements. They claim that the pressure applied can help CSF circulate better.
CST has been used to treat many conditions, including:
- headaches, neck pain, spinal or back pain
- temporal mandibular joint disorder (TMJ) disorder
- ear pain, ear and sinus congestion, and chronic bronchitis
- dizziness and vertigo
- joint pain or problems
- learning disabilities
- injuries from trauma, such as head injury or neck injury
- colic in infants
- problems related to nerve damage or injuries, such as sciatica
To begin the therapy, a person usually lies down on a massage table. The therapist monitors the rhythmic motions described above. The therapist feels the body motions and applies gentle pressure to areas that do not seem to be flowing correctly. The pressure is usually applied to the bones of the head, spine, chest, rib cage, and arms and legs. This is believed to help CSF flow smoothly. The amount of pressure applied is very gentle.
CST therapists believe if there is a problem with the craniosacral motions or CSF, the body cannot stay healthy. The body is said to focus on the abnormal flow, leaving insufficient energy to stay healthy.
A second aspect of CST is called the somatoemotional response. In this part of CST, the therapist uses talking and imagery techniques. These are believed to help release painful emotions the hands-on therapy may uncover.
The CST therapist will guide a person through his or her emotions. The therapist will try to help the person resolve any inner concerns or conflict. Each session lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. The number of sessions will depend on what type of condition is being treated. Sessions may continue as long as a person feels they are helpful.
Most medical professionals do not believe CST is a valid treatment for any condition. Evidence from objective research has not been produced to support the claims made by CST therapists. Therapy is said to involving gently moving the bones of the skull, but there is no evidence this is possible since the bones are fused together very early during childhood. Scientists who study the nervous system have been unable to find or measure any rhythmic movements of the type discussed in the CST theories.
Anyone with CSF problems, blood clots, or cerebral aneurysms, which are abnormally widened blood vessels, should avoid this therapy. Those who have been advised to avoid things that affect the CSF should also not have this therapy. Parents are strongly advised to speak with a medical professional before letting an infant or child have this therapy.
Side effects are reported to be rare. However, little scientific data is available to evaluate the true risk of side effects. Possible reported side effects include diarrhea, headaches, and angry outbursts. Because physical manipulation is used, injury is possible, though unlikely given that the manipulation is very gentle. Anyone who desires CST therapy should first consult his or her healthcare professional. Any unusual symptoms, such as shortness of breath, headaches, chest pain, or back pain should be reported to the healthcare professional.