While studying a human skull in the early 1900s, an American osteopathic physician named William Garner Sutherland noticed that the sutures of the bones were ‘beveled, like the gills of a fish’, indicating the possibility they were more flexible than originally thought.
From this observation, the seeds for the development of craniosacral therapy (CST) were sown. The concept was further developed in the 1970s by John Upledger, who created many of the common craniosacral techniques used today. While the treatment initially attracted skepticism from the medical community, it has become more accepted as evidence of its effectiveness has grown. Today, it is taught to a diverse range of practitioners in a number of medical disciplines, including physicians, dentists, chiropractors and osteopaths.
However, it is perhaps more commonly practiced in massage therapy than any other field, as RMTs find craniosacral an extremely useful technique for treating a variety of patients.
The craniosacral system is a hydraulic physiological system which nourishes and protects the brain, spinal cord, and sacrum. The bones in the system are protected by an external membrane known as the dura matter, and something called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulates within this system’s cells.
During their anatomy and physiology classes at a registered massage therapist college, students learn that CSF serves many functions, including transporting nutrients to the brain and spinal cord, and washing away metabolic waste that has accumulated in cells and cell walls. It also serves as a shock absorber for any trauma the system might experience.
To facilitate these important functions, the cranial bones need to open and close slightly, allowing the dura matter boundaries to expand and contract so as to avoid excessive buildup of CSF. Craniosacral therapy becomes necessary when this functionality is compromised, usually as a result of disease or injury.
CST is a non-invasive treatment in which a registered massage therapist applies gentle hand movements to the skull, spine, sacrum, and their surrounding sutures and fascia. The therapist needs to be able to detect disturbances in the craniosacral rhythm of a patient, and try to restore motion where possible.
A RMT will often focus on the flow of CSF and blood through the craniosacral system, working to restore it to its optimum level. They will also be mindful of the ability of the dura matter to expand and move within the vertebral canal and cranium, and seek to correct any signs of impairment.
By removing restrictions within the craniosacral system, CST can dramatically enhance the body’s natural healing ability. As such, it has been shown to be notably effective in improving the symptoms of patients with spinal cord injuries, TMJ and muscle and joint pain, particularly in the back and neck.
CST is also a powerful stress and pain reliever, and can be quite effective in helping to treat headaches and migraines, as well as relieving the pain of tinnitus and ear infections. It is also known to aid restful sleep, and may often be employed by an RMT to help treat clients with insomnia.
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