What is Craniosacral Therapy?

If you have seen an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner for care it is very likely that a portion of your session involved the gentle hands-on approach of craniosacral therapy (CST). CST is often referred to as an alternative treatment approach which is mostly applied by trained manual therapists or Osteopathic manual practitioners who have undergone extensive training to evaluate and address imbalances in the craniosacral system. So, what is craniosacral therapy?

The craniosacral system is recognised as a functioning physiological system which includes the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain, as well as the bones of which these membranes attach and connect. The bones that are associated with the craniosacral system include all the small bones of the cranium or skull, the spinal vertebrae and the bones of the pelvis, like the sacrum and innominate bones. The craniosacral system has its own innate rhythm or pulse that is separate from the heart beat or respiration. This is what practitioners learn to feel with their hands, which you can imagine takes lots of time, training and experience.

The subtle movements of the cranial bones was first observed by an American Osteopath named Garner Sutherland, in the 1930. He was the first to conduct experimental studies to explore the mobility of the individual cranial bones. Technology has come a long way since the 1930’s which has made it easier to observe the mechanism of the craniosacral system. There is a growing body of evidence which supports the movement of the brain tissue, the spinal cord and the sacrum (Jäkel & Von Hauenschild, 2012).

What is it helpful for?

CST, supports the central nervous system and promotes the regulation of the autonomic nervous system. Which means, CST can be extremely helpful for the management of conditions like anxiety as it evokes a calming effect. The calming effects of Osteopathy and CST have been demonstrated in preterm infants, who after 5 minutes of osteopathic touch, demonstrated a significantly lower heart rate and an increased oxygen saturation level (Manzotti et al., 2020). What this specific study demonstrated was that OMT had a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system and promoted parasympathetic activity (rest and digest) in the preterm infants.

The calming effects of OMT have also been reported amongst adults. A group of adult patients aged 18-65 who were diagnosed with moderate to severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), received five osteopathic treatments, over a period of 8-9 weeks. Following the treatment intervention period, researchers reported a significant reduction in self-reported measures of anxiety (Dixon et al., 2020).

The application of CST in patients struggling with fibromyalgia has demonstrated to significantly reduce reported or perceived pain levels (Castro & Sanchez, 2011). Pain intensity levels were determined by evaluating tender points, and heart rate variability was recorded by 24-hour Holter monitoring. After a 20 week intervention period, patients with fibromyalgia showed significant reduction in pain at 13 of the 18 tender points. In another study, after 25 weeks of CST intervention, patients with fibromyalgia reported significant improvements in the quality and duration of their sleep (Matarán-Peñarrocha et al., 2011)

CST is a gentle, non-invasive alternative approach to addressing a wide range of discomforts in the body. The application of this modality during an Osteopathic treatment promotes a general sense of well-being and relaxation. CST enhances parasympathetic activity which can be incredibly helpful for anyone dealing with stress, anxiety or chronic pain.

If you are struggling with some of these concerns and are interested in trying craniosacral therapy, click here. I would be more than happy to assist you with your journey to wellness.


Castro-Sanchez, A. M., Mataran-Penarrocha, G. A., Sánchez-Labraca, N., Quesada-Rubio, J. M., Granero-Molina, J., & Moreno-Lorenzo, C. (2011). A randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of craniosacral therapy on pain and heart rate variability in fibromyalgia patients. Clinical rehabilitation, 25(1), 25-35.

Dixon, L., Fotinos, K., Sherifi, E., Lokuge, S., Fine, A., Furtado, M., … & Katzman, M. A. (2020). Effect of osteopathic manipulative therapy on generalized anxiety disorder. J. Am. Osteopath. Assoc, 120, 133-143.

Jäkel, A., & von Hauenschild, P. (2012). A systematic review to evaluate the clinical benefits of craniosacral therapy. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(6), 456-465.

Manzotti, A., Cerritelli, F., Lombardi, E., La Rocca, S., Chiera, M., Galli, M., & Lista, G. (2020). Effects of osteopathic treatment versus static touch on heart rate and oxygen saturation in premature babies: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 39, 101116.

Matarán-Peñarrocha, G. A., Castro-Sánchez, A. M., García, G. C., Moreno-Lorenzo, C., Carreño, T. P., & Zafra, M. D. O. (2011). Influence of craniosacral therapy on anxiety, depression and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011.

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