Definition & Overview

Craniosacral therapy is a form of alternative medicine designed to improve the flow of cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The fluid serves as a cushion against injuries to these important parts.

The technique is said to enhance primary respiration, a term designated for the motility of the central nervous system. It is also the mechanism for the mobility of the cranial bones and its underlying intracranial and intraspinal membranes. This technique was developed to address varied conditions of the craniosacral system, which is composed of membranes and fluids surrounding the skull, bones in the face, and the spine. Overall, the craniosacral system performs a specialised function of protecting and cushioning the bones, as well as aiding the functions of the central nervous system.

The technique was initially developed by John Upledger, a leading proponent of osteopathy, a branch of medicine that advocates treating medical disorders with the use of massages and manipulation of bones, muscles, and joints. The concept was built on the idea of fellow osteopath William Sutherland who claimed that the cranium bones undergo rhythmic changes in shape.

Proponents for this technique claims to achieve improved functions of nerves in a gentle and non-invasive method. Practitioners of this technique include allopathic physicians, chiropractors, neuropathic physicians, nurses, physical, occupational, and massage therapists, as well as speech and language pathologists.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Craniosacral therapy is recommended for people who suffer from:

  • Migraines and chronic headaches - This technique can help reduce compression in the head to achieve pain relief
  • Back and neck pain
  • Disorder or inflammation of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the skull to the lower jaw
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome - Craniosacral therapy is also advocated as an adjunct therapy for those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome characterised by fever, persistent feeling of tiredness, and depression. This treatment modality is especially beneficial to patients who have tried other types of treatment methods but are unable to achieve relief of their symptoms.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder - In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder patients also find improvement of their condition following craniosacral therapy.

Even those who enjoy perfectly good health can also take advantage of craniosacral therapy as means of maintaining the body’s natural processes and helping prevent diseases or disorders.

The treatment typically lasts for an hour or two and patients often report achieving pain relief after each session. Most patients report being placed under meditative state a few minutes after the start of their sessions. Craniosacral therapy is considered a safe and simple procedure, affording its patients with a means of achieving relaxation and pain relief.

How is the Procedure Performed?

Craniosacral therapy is performed in an outpatient setting. The person is asked to assume a reclining position, fully clothed. The practitioner uses a light touch to massage the scalp and part of the neck to evaluate and monitor the rhythm of the craniosacral system. Imbalances and restrictions are then loosed and released. The light and subtle touch is also meant to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and the brain itself.

The practitioner also massages the bones in the pelvis to facilitate the flow of fluid throughout the craniosacral system and helps in the evaluation of craniosacral rhythms.

Craniosacral therapists claim to be so attuned with this delicate system that they can detect any slight distortion or imbalance. They try to manipulate the bones from the top of the skull to the pelvis area to guide and correct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Natural healing is also said to be encouraged and enhanced with these slight manipulations.

Possible Risks and Complications

Though rare in occurrence, craniosacral therapy may cause undue stress and injury to the bones, nerves, and other massaged body parts.

Since this technique involves massaging the top of the skull, it could cause potential injury to infants and children whose skull structure have not yet fully set and hardened.


  • Greenman, PE; McPartland, JM (1995). “Cranial findings and iatrogenesis from craniosacral manipulation in patients with traumatic brain syndrome”. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 95 (3): 182–8; 191–2.

  • Herring, Susan W. (2008). “Mechanical Influences on Suture Development and Patency”. In Rice, David P. Craniofacial Sutures: Development, Disease and Treatment. Frontiers of Oral Biology 12. Karger. pp. 41–56

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