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Craniosacral Therapy: Manipulating Your Brain and Spinal Cord
Sometimes a light touch is all you need. At least, that's what proponents of craniosacral therapy believe. This relatively new type of massage, which has only been widely used in the alternative mainstream for about 30 years, works to alleviate problems associated primarily with pain and loss of function. It does this by applying very light pressure to evaluate and correct the body's craniosacral system: connected to the brain and spinal cord.
While the people who seek out cranisosacral therapy are sometimes disabled individuals or parents of babies who have undergone some type of birth trauma, it is also recommended for people who suffer from migraines, tension, anxiety and other relatively minor disorders. People who have it often report a variety of benefits, including improved sleep, better mobility and increased energy.
Unlike many other alternative treatments, there is lots of anecdotal evidence that craniosacral therapy can work - at least in very disabled patients. However, there is very little scientific evidence to back that up. And whether it will help you to sleep better, or make your baby's colic go away or feel better, is also still up for discussion.
How Does Craniosacral Therapy Work?
Also known as CST or cranial osteopathy, this therapy centers around a very light massage on the craniosacral area, working the spine and the head together to realign bones, allow the spinal fluid to flow unrestricted, and reduce pain. Like many alternative therapies it claims to help the body heal itself, and says that by doing so it can bolster our ability to fight disease and help treat a variety of problems associated with either dysfunction or pain.
While having someone play around with your brain and spinal cord may sound a bit dicey, the massage is actually completely non-invasive and quite relaxing, involving a cranial osteopath gently manipulating your skull as you lie on a massage table and try not to think of Frankenstein.
It all started thanks to one Dr William G. Sutherland, who believed that the bones in the skull were pliable, and that by gently moving them and touching the membranes, muscles and tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord, other bodily functions could be fixed, enhanced and improved.
According to one massage website, "when blockages occur in spinal fluid, an inharmonious balance in the body can occur, resulting in muscle and joint strain, emotional disturbances, and the improper operation of the body's organs and central nervous system".
Sutherland died in 1954, but he began teaching his ideas in the 1930s, and established the Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation a year before his death. His work was carried further by John Upledger DO, who has even founded his own institute called the Upledger Institute.
Since then his methods have been expanded on, and while several big academic treatises have been published expanding the technique's merits, others have claimed that there is little scientific evidence to back them up.
One reason that may be the case is because of the wide spectrum of ailments craniosacral therapy claims to be able to treat. They include everything from chronic fatigue to colic to scoliosis, and also include autism, learning difficulties and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Benefit to Babies
Craniosacral therapy has long been seen as a way to relieve minor problems in newborns and infants. It is thought that during delivery the head and muscles near the head may be traumatised, especially if there has been an aided birth using forceps or ventouse suction.
While there is no evidence that CST can help, no adverse effects have been reported and the vast majority of babies - and their parents - find the whole affair a calming, relaxing experience.
Reasons parents take their babies to a craniosacral therapist include:
Inability to breastfeed properly
Asymmetrical head shape
Please note that if you decide to take your baby to a craniosacral therapist yo may be able to get help from your insurance company to pay for it, so get a referral before you go.
Helping Disabled People
CST can also be of benefit to people who have experienced severe medical problems, such as spinal cord injuries due to accident, cerebral palsy and other conditions. While proponents of it as a healing tool do not claim that it can cure problems, they hope that its less-invasive techniques can help patients develop their own muscle and nervous systems to protect themselves against further worsening of the condition, or other disease in general.
According to a craniosacral therapist who has worked with adults who have cerebral palsy for the last five years: "Many of these look forward to their CST sessions to relieve tight and twisted fascia that impedes the cerebral spinal fluid from circulating easily. Many report fewer headaches and backaches, less stress and more mobility. This often makes a significant difference in the quality of life for someone with disabilities."
While insurance will probably not cover CST to treat CP, if the condition was a result of an accident at birth, your pay-out may be able to cover it.
Scientific or Silly?
CST is known as a gentle yet powerful treatment that has positive effects for many people. While it may not work for everyone - and while it doesn't claim to be able to cure everything - the fact that it is non-invasive with no adverse effects means many people are willing to give it a go.
Before you break into your bank balance, however, keep in mind that this therapy - like most alternative and/or complementary treatments - has its critics. "I do not believe that craniosacral therapy has any therapeutic value. Its underlying theory is false because the bones of the skull fuse by the end of adolescence and no research has ever demonstrated that manual manipulation can move the individual cranial bones," writes Dr Stephen Barrett MD in his Quackwatch website.
"Nor do I believe that 'the rhythms of the craniosacral system can be felt as clearly as the rhythms of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems,' as is claimed by another Upledger Institute brochure. The brain does pulsate, but this is exclusively related to the cardiovascular system, and no relationship between brain pulsation and general health has been demonstrated."
As always, you be the judge...
The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care an appropriate health care provider.
About the Author
Sarah Matthews is a writer for Yodle, a business directory and online advertising company. Find a therapist or more personal care articles at Yodle Consumer Guide. Craniosacral Therapy: Manipulating Your Brain and Spinal Cord
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