Craniosacral Therapy

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A form of body work that involves gentle touch aimed at manipulating the synarthrodial joints of the cranium, spine, and pelvis. John Upledger, DO, an osteopath, developed the therapy in the 1970s. The human cranium, the part of the skull that houses the brain, is composed of eight distinct bones joined by fibrous joints, or “sutures.” According to proponents of craniosacral therapy, the cranial bones are mobile, their movement contributes to fluctuations in the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal column), and palpation of the cranium can be used to manipulate the cranial bones to improve the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and treat various diseases, such as cancer.

Critics of craniosacral therapy point out that there is no solid evidence of significant mobility of the cranial bones, and a study in rabbits showed that clinical touch failed to move the bones of the cranium or affect the pressure of fluid within the cranium. (Studies suggest that breathing, on the other hand, actually does have an effect on cerebrospinal fluid.) Furthermore, a systematic review of randomized clinical trials of craniosacral therapy showed no benefits for specific disease states. However, craniosacral therapy appears to be safe, and patients and even some critics report feelings of deep relaxation following therapy.

Want to learn more about strategies for relaxation? See “Relaxation Techniques: Stress-Busting Methods” and “Try This Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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