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How Craniosacral Therapy Works

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 Osteopathic physician, Dr. William Sutherland, one of the originators of cranial work, talked of five characteristics of the body. This is a framework that can be used to explain

how Craniosacral therapy works.

1. ‘The mobility of the cranial bones’

Medical professionals will tell you that most of the bones in the head are fused from around the age of around two. However there are two key bones in the head that are joined by cartilage. The Spheno-basilar synchondrosis – joint between the big bone at the back of the head (Occiput) and the butterfly shaped bone in the centre of your skull (Sphenoid), which your pituitary gland sits upon. The fact that this joint is made of cartilage indicates to some that it’s actually been designed to move. The edges of many other bones in the head are bevelled in a way that permits tiny movements.

2. ‘The reciprocal tension of the membranes’

Membranes (or Fascia) cover everything in the body and run from the top of your head to your toes, covering organs and bones – everything is therefore connected.  This is why, for example, bumping your right hip this can have repercussions in other parts in your body, you may get a pain in your left shoulder or discomfort in your left knee and so on. The reciprocal tension in the membranes is also one of the reasons working on one part of a body can have an impact elsewhere.

3. ‘The motility of the Central Nervous System’

There are 12 cranial nerves that originate in the brain and brain stem. They travel out though various holes in the bones of your skull, to the face and down the neck and spine, travelling out to the organs and muscles in your body. These nerves are continually feeding messages back and forth between brain and all of the bodily systems - controlling the organs (including lungs (respiratory system); stomach, intestines & gall bladder (digestive system); kidneys, liver & bladder (excretory / urinary system), immune system and hormones (reproductive system & endocrine system), limbs and emotions.  Working with the nervous system, via gentle touch at the head and spine, can thus improve all manner of problems; from anxiety, insomnia and depression, to teeth grinding, IBS and the functioning of the urinary system.

4. ‘The fluctuation of the Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)’

This fluid is made in the brain and surrounds both the brain and spinal cord, as well as the entire surface of the central nervous system. Craniosacral therapists understand that this fluid moves up and down the spine supported by a movement of the sacrum and causing minute movements of the bones in the face and head, as long as these bones are not wedged or trapped in some way as a result of tensions in the muscles or membranes.

5. ‘The involuntary motion of the sacrum’

Minute movements of the sacrum generate a wavelike motion of the CSF which bathes the nerves in the spine and brain. This motion is sometimes described by Craniosacral therapists as the ‘breath of life’ or ‘primary respiration’ as Dr Sutherland called it. If cranial or spinal bones are misaligned or there are other blockages, the motion can be inhibited and have negative effects on wellbeing. Craniosacral therapy also helps to release tensions in the muscles and body generally, which can support a well-aligned posture and flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

Craniosacral therapists work with the whole body via the bones, nervous system, fascia and the Cerebrospinal fluid. By ‘listening’ to the body through gentle touch, restrictions or blockages are identified and released. These releases of tension can maintain health, wellbeing and immunity, as well as ward off depression, musculo-skeletal dysfunction, pain and stress. It’s also great for babies, as well as many postnatal issues. Things like colic and crying are often a result of the shock and trauma associated with birth and these are commonly released and remedied by Craniosacral therapy.

Supporting the free flow of this ‘breath of life’ through craniosacral therapy often means the body is able to successfully find its own way back to health.


People often seek help with the following


Crying and unsettled babies.

Problems with feeding and sleeping.


Digestive issues including colic.

 A treatment following birth is so beneficial for mum and baby. 



Autism, learning and behavioural issues, ADHD and sensory processing issues.

Anxiety, sleep disturbances and nightmares.

Postural issues.


Addiction; Anxiety, depression, and stress related conditions; Muscular aches and strains; skeletal problems; General pain relief, including Migraine, neck pain and back pain; Sinusitis, Tinnitus, Insomnia, Fatigue, Chronic fatigue / ME, Long Covid; TMJ problems and teeth grinding. Support during pregnancy, birth and postnatally.

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Research into the Effectiveness of Craniosacral Therapy

Here is a list of some of the research papers that exist that detail Craniosacral Therapy's (CST’s) potential usefulness in the treatment of specific issues.

ADHD & Autism - A  2017 retrospective survey explored the use of CST for persons with ASD. Participants included practitioners, parents and clients. It was found that there were positive responses observed by all three groups and that concluded that there as worth cause to further investigate how CST benefits autistic spectrum disorders.

Colic - A 2019 randomized controlled trial was conducted on 58 infants, aged 0–84 days, diagnosed with infantile colic concluded that CST appears to be effective and safe for infantile colic by reducing the number of crying hours, the colic severity and increasing the total hours of sleep.

Chronic pain - a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, included 681 patients with neck and back pain, migraine, headache, fibromyalgia, epicondylitis, and pelvic girdle pain. CST showed greater post intervention effects on: pain intensity and disability, compared to treatment as usual; on pain intensity and disability compared to manual/non-manual sham; and on pain intensity and disability compared to active manual treatments. At six months, CST showed greater effects on pain intensity and disability versus sham. Secondary outcomes were all significantly more improved in CST patients than in other groups, except for six-month mental quality of life versus sham. 

General pain - A systematic review in 2012 found that "pain and quality of life/general well-being can be improved by the use of craniosacral therapy".

Lower back pain - A Polish study (2014) concluded that “Craniosacral therapy may effectively reduce the intensity and frequency of pain in patients with non-specific low back pain”, “Craniosacral therapy reduces the resting tension of the multifidus muscle in patients with non-specific lumbosacral pain” and “Craniosacral therapy may be clinically effective in the treatment of patients with non-specific lumbosacral spine pain”.

Migraine & Headaches

The results from an Icelandic study (2012) indicated that “Craniosacral therapy can alleviate migraine symptoms”.

2017 study showed that Craniosacral therapy is an effective treatment strategy for patients of Cervicogenic Headache as measured on HIT-6 during a 3 week treatment program.

Neck pain - A 2015 trial showed “CST was both specifically effective and safe in reducing neck pain intensity and may improve functional disability and the quality of life up to 3 months after intervention”.

Quality of life / general well-being - A systematic review in 2012 found that "pain and quality of life/general well-being can be improved by the use of craniosacral therapy".

Fibromyalgia - A 2011 trial showed “Craniosacral therapy improved medium-term pain symptoms (and Heart Rate Variability) in patients with fibromyalgia”.

2009 study showed how approaching fibromyalgia by means of craniosacral therapy contributes to improving anxiety and quality of life levels in these patients.

Multiple Sclerosis - A 2009 study looked at the effect of CST on urinary tract signs and symptoms in MS

Dementia - Findings of a 2008 study with 9 patients with dementia over a 6 week period–indicated a statistically significant reduction in MCMAI total and subscale scores (measures of agitation / aggressiveness) during the intervention period. This reduction continued during postintervention for subscale scores of physical nonaggression and verbal agitation.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - A 2009 research study involving 38 Tibetan ex-political prisoners in exile concluded that PTSD could be treated with craniosacral therapy. Results of the pilot study found that survey scores for anxiety and somatic complaints of the participants who received the Craniosacral Therapy decreased and were statistically significant. Source: American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

The Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA) have also identified a number of studies that demonstrate how effective craniosacral therapy and cranial osteopathy can be.  Please click on the links below to see lists of research papers on the CSTA website.

Children & CST including colic, crying, ADHD, cerebral palsy, middle ear issues

CST Technique - a mixture of papers on the method generally and its results

Effectiveness of CST

CST & Neurology - Fibromyalgia, dementia, Bells palsy, brain injury, MS and the urinary system

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