What is craniosacral therapy?

Hi there! Welcome!

Maybe you’ve landed here because you have headaches, neck pain, or back pain that is not responding to medication or other treatment. Maybe you’re going through a tough period in your life and need to calm down your nervous system. Or maybe it’s something else. I’m glad you found me and I’d love to answer your questions about CST.

Fasten your seat belts, because it’s quite a ride!

Craniosacral therapy focuses on connective tissue. You know when you’re cooking and the raw steak has white areas that separate different muscle groups? That’s connective tissue (we call it fascia). There is connective tissue around every nerve and muscle cell, around all the groups of nerves and muscles, around compartments in the body (lungs vs. abdomen, for example), and even around us as a whole under our skin. If we could somehow take away every cell that isn’t connective tissue, we’d end up with a ghostly shape that is fully identifiable as human with all its nerves, muscles, bones, and organs.

So working with connective tissue affects everything in your body.

The key here is that connective tissue needs its own way of working. It doesn’t like fast work or hard work. So a deep-tissue massage will not really reduce stuck-together areas of connective tissue. On the other hand, if we work slowly, but in a very focused way, we can ease apart the velcro layers one loop at a time. We can go deep, but it takes time.

So? Well, if you’re finding that your pain isn’t reduced much by fast or aggressive work, then craniosacral therapy is a reasonable thing to try because it’s slow and not aggressive. We talk about having our hands melt into the tissue, rather than forcing it to move. Similarly, if medication hasn’t helped in the long term, then craniosacral therapy is a reasonable field trip because maybe the cause (connective tissue pulling, say) hasn’t gone away.

It’s all about field trips. If you know that A, B, and C don’t work, maybe it’s worth trying D!

Why is it called craniosacral therapy? Do you only work on heads?

Cranio comes from cranium, or head. Sacral comes from sacrum, or tailbone. Originally (in the 1970s), Dr. Upledger was focused on connective tissue around the brain, spine, and sacrum. He called his work craniosacral therapy to separate it from cranial osteopathy, which doesn’t work on the tailbone much. But there’s connective tissue all over our bodies, so his work soon went offroad. We can now work anywhere in the body, and find that our techniques work as well for arms (elbows, shoulders, wrists, hands), and legs (hips, knees, ankles, feet) as for the spine. But now, it’s too late to rename it.

Do you only work with pain?

Oh heck no! One thing CST is really good at is calming down an overactive nervous system. CST is weirdly relaxing. You are lying on my (heated, comfy) table with all your clothes on and a blanket and it’s dark. Then this lady (me) slides her hand under the bottom sheet and holds the back of your tail bone for like 15 minutes. Or I’m at your head with my hands gently holding both sides of your head for 20 minutes and not really moving my hands around much. Boring as heck, but relaxing?

Weirdly, yes. It’s even more relaxing than a nap. We call it the “cranio trance.” Not everyone sinks into it right away, but it’s a very pleasant sensation of not exactly being awake and not exactly being asleep, but being somewhere in between. And that in between place is very healing.

Maybe it’s because I’m not moving my hands around, and your body doesn’t have to keep track of that. Maybe it’s because my hands are relaxed and not perceived of as a threat by your body. Maybe it’s the way the work helps to free up stuck tissue, especially areas that might be pulling on nerves or the brain. We’re not really sure of the details, but we consistently find that it’s relaxing in a way that can be quite deep. And when tissue is unstuck, it stays unstuck.

Quick funny story: A client came in and said “The last time I was here, I thought ‘see you never’ because you didn’t do anything. But then I went home and worked on my truck and my back didn’t hurt. So here I am!”

Okay, back to the question about helping more than pain. Cranio can help reduce anxiety. It can pull you out of the fight-or-flight response and put you in rest-and-digest. Here are some examples of how that can help:

*A client had to file for bankruptcy and it was overwhelming to them. After each cranio session, they felt calm enough to go home and work on it.

*A client has a child with serious mental health issues. They (the parent) sometimes get overwhelmed by it all. Cranio helps them calm down and be able to face the challenges ahead.

*A client came in with lifelong anxiety. I found that two of the bones in their head were moving in ways they shouldn’t. (One of those bones sits under the brain, so if this bone is being jerked around, the brain is probably not going to be happy.) By working with the bones of their head and mouth, those two bones were restored to their proper motion. Their anxiety decreased a lot.

Can cranio help me with trauma?

Oh heck yes. We find that external chaotic energy that is left behind after a physical or emotional trauma is stored in the body by being linked to connective tissue. We find that while we’re working with fascia, we can feel this energy being released. Sometimes it feels like a burst of warmth, or a burst of coolness, or a buzzing feeling in the tissue, or maybe a sort of wasabi burst (pow!). Some practitioners say they see light coming off sometimes. I don’t, but I think that’s so cool!

We find that when the energy is gone, it’s gone. The body no longer has to work around it. This really helps to reduce the side-effects of trauma and it’s a great companion to your work with a counsellor.

Are you really this weird?

Oh no, I’m much weirder!

I like CST because it can be really tangential, and that makes it more fun. One example is carpal tunnel syndrome. Your pain is in your wrist, but nothing you’ve done has helped and the x-rays say it’s fine. Well maybe the issue is really at your neck. Maybe there’s stuckness in the connective tissue at your neck, and the brain isn’t always all that good at decoding where the pain comes from, so it thinks it’s coming from the wrist.

I call this the Costco example. In our imaginary Costco (big warehouse store), the muffin racks are moving. Hmm. So we’ve looked at the floor under the muffins and it’s level and we’ve looked at the muffin racks and they’re level and we’re not having shaking all the time. So that all looks fine. But what if the real cause of the problem is a case of toothbrushes that has been knocked over up at the front of the store? What if the cling wrap around the toothbrush box pulls on the cling wrap around the toothbrush case, which pulls on the cling wrap around the shelving unit, which pulls on the cling wrap around all of the left-side-of-the-store shelving units, which pulls on the cling wrap around the muffin racks at the end, and the muffin racks have wheels, so they can move to reduce the pulling.

Our bodies are just like that. Groovy, huh?!

So yeah, it’s not unusual for me to say something like, “I promise to get to your headache, but your body is telling me to work on your right knee, so give me a minute here and then I’ll work on your head.” Ha!

Have you always been this weird?