What is Craniosacral Therapy?
Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a non-invasive, touch-based therapy that is part of cranial osteopathy. This therapy involves applying gentle pressure on the skull, spine, and parts of the pelvis. It is used by osteopaths, chiropractors, and massage therapists to relieve pain and discomfort.
Practitioners claim that craniosacral therapy can melt away that muscular tension that builds up over time due to stress and fatigue. With constant administration, craniosacral therapy can help recipients learn to relax physically, which helps provide calmness and lessen anxiety.
The pressure and manipulation applied using craniosacral therapy are believed to improve the circulation of the cerebrospinal fluid found around the brain and spinal cord. As a result, it releases restrictions within the craniosacral system and improves the function of the central nervous system, which is the body’s pain receptor.
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Craniosacral therapy was developed in the 1970s by the late Dr. John Upledger who specialized in osteopathy. It was a result of his research involving the craniosacral system, which suggests that the bones of the skull were “structured to allow for movement.” His research was successful in proving this theory and led to further developing craniosacral therapy.
According to Dr. Upledger’s official website, craniosacral therapy treats the following conditions:
- Concussion and traumatic brain injury
- Migraines and headaches
- Chronic neck and back pain
- Stress and tension-related disorders
- Motor-coordination impairments
- Infant and childhood disorders
- Brain and spinal cord injuries
- Chronic fatigue
- TMJ syndrome
- Central nervous system disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Orthopedic problems
How Does Craniosacral Therapy Benefit People With Autism?
Many parents often wonder how craniosacral therapy helps with autism. Craniosacral therapy is a physical treatment that involves touching and massaging certain body parts – something that is unlike other medicines used to treat autism.
To explain the application of craniosacral therapy for autism, the Upledger Institute website created a dedicated webpage for this specific topic. The webpage further discussed that CST helps patients with autism by removing tension in the skull and reducing “the abnormal grasp, squeeze and irritation of the membrane on the brain.”
To address patients with autism, CST enhances a balanced motion of the membrane layers surrounding the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and areas of the body that are unresponsive to the craniosacral rhythm. The CST massage focuses on locating areas that are responsive and unresponsive to the rhythm.
In summary, the website concludes that: “CST can help the brain decrease levels of abnormal inflammation, sensation, tension, toxicity, and chaos. This can lead to greater ease and efficiency of nervous system processing, which often manifests as a reduction of ASD symptoms.”
To date, only a number of researchers look at craniosacral therapy and autism. One study conducted a survey and gathered 405 responses–264 from therapists and 124 from parents. The survey found out that:
- CST is now being recommended as a treatment for ASD
- The results are generally positive in treating patients with autism
In addition to autism, craniosacral therapy is also used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). An Iranian study in 2013 tested CST in an experimental group while also receiving occupational therapy. The experimental group received 15 sessions of CST twice a week. The results indicated a better attention span, reduced hyperactivity, and a decrease in oppositional defiance, anxiety, and conduct disorder.
Therapists who treat people and children with sensory integration disorder are beginning to recognize how CST can complement their methods. Combining craniosacral therapy and sensory integration therapy has the potential to bring significant improvements to patients. While children and people with sensory integration disorder generally dislike being touched, parents whose children have undergone CST report that their children did not mind the touch-based nature of the treatment at all.
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How Craniosacral Therapy Can Make a Big Difference with ASD
Craniosacral therapy for infants is being administered to babies as early as two weeks from birth. It is an option given to parents of infants who have experienced head trauma due to problems during delivery, which can include forceps delivery, ventouse extraction, and prolonged birth. This condition may result in the baby’s cranial bones being twisted or compressed, which in theory can be corrected with CST.
Most pediatricians warn parents against using CST as there have been reported cases of negative effects associated with manual therapies (which include craniosacral therapy) administered to infants.
CST is not a traditional medical treatment, and as such, does not have significant evidence-based research to support its claims. Always consult a doctor before making a decision to elect CST as a treatment for your child or infant.
Criticisms of Craniosacral Therapy
Since its entry into the medical world, CST has received many criticisms from scientists and medical professionals. The consensus is that the “positive effects” of CST cannot be proven. As for the research done on CST with positive results, this study claims that these had low-grade evidence and used inadequate research protocols.
Another review suggests that most results of a study with randomized controlled trials appear to be biased, while the rest did not prove the effectiveness of CST.
Considering the mixed reviews of craniosacral therapy from parents, practitioners, and medical professionals, parents and caregivers are encouraged to consult a physician before enrolling their child for CST.
Craniosacral therapy: Does it work? 2017 July 20. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318490.php
What is CranioSacral Therapy? Retrieved from: https://www.upledger.com/therapies/faq.php
Autism Spectrum Disorder: How Craniosacral Therapy Can Help. 2011 September 4. Retrieved from: https://upledger.ie/articles/autism-spectrum-disorder-how-craniosacral-therapy-can-help/
The use of CranioSacral therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders: Benefits from the viewpoints of parents, clients, and therapists. 2017 January. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28167177
Effect of Craniosacral Therapy on Students’ Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Effect-of-Craniosacral-Therapy-on-Students’-of-Amrovabady-Esteki/f7b50e8c681f9908e1f0814380eebb4fc1519ab8
Craniosacral therapy for children with sensory integration dysfunction. Retrieved from: https://upledger.ie/articles/craniosacral-therapy-for-children-with-sensory-integration-dysfunction/
Craniosacral Therapy for Infants. Retrieved from: https://www.birthinjuryguide.org/birth-injury/treatment/craniosacral-therapy/
Adverse Events Due to Chiropractic and Other Manual Therapies for Infants and Children: A Review of the Literature. 2015 December. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25439034
A systematic review of craniosacral therapy: Biological plausibility, assessment reliability and clinical effectiveness. 1999 December. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0965229999800028
Craniosacral therapy: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. 18 October 2012. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.2042-7166.2012.01174.x