What is Craniosacral Therapy?

Craniosacral therapy
Craniosacral therapy. Credit: Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

What is Craniosacral Therapy?

Craniosacral therapy is type of a holistic body therapy that uses very light touch (no greater than 5 grams, which is about the weight of a nickel, according to founder John Upledger's website) to assess and facilitate the craniosacral system. The craniosacral system is comprised of the cerebrospinal fluid and its surrounding membranes.

The Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)

The cerebrospinal fluid circulates throughout the central nervous system and is responsible for maintaining the electrolyte balance there, according to Whedon and Glassey in a 2009 study that was published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

 Along with electrolyte balance, Whedon and Glassey say that the cerebrospinal fluid influences acid-base balance, helps deliver nutrients to nervous system cells, transports important substances throughout the central nervous system, and acts as a waste disposal service, also for the central nervous system.

Wheldon and Glassey assert that there is evidence that the cerebrospinal fluid, when blocked, can adversely affect health on a systemic level. While the maladies they list are not diagnoses you'd likely find at your medical doctor's office (and therefore conditions for which insurance will likely not pay,) these terms are alive and well as descriptors in the alternative health field. For example, vertebral subluxation syndrome is the mainstay of chiropractic treatment. (Note: The term "subluxation" is also a conventional medical term but used in that context, it's meaning is quite different.)

History of Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy was developed by John Upledger, a bio-mechanist and holistic therapist. It was developed from findings and observations of cranial osteopaths from the early 20th century. (In fact, craniosacral therapy techniques are based on Cranial Osteopathy, which is a branch of osteopathy.)

But with Upledger's contributions, craniosacral therapy is now practiced not only by osteopaths but also by massage therapists, chiropractors, yoga therapists, and others in the alternative health fields.

How Craniosacral Therapy is Applied to the Body

Craniosacral therapists believe that a small rhythm, related to respiration, occurs at the joints of the skull. They say that this rhythm actually comes from the membrane that lines our nervous system structures. For this reason, craniosacral therapy work focuses is on those membranes rather than directly on the bones and sutures.

The hands-on work is applied to the skull and also the spine, particularly the sacral area, with the goal of restoring the rhythm and full flow of the cerebrospinal fluid.


Discover CranioSacral Therapy. Upledger Institute International website. Accessed: Marcy 2016. http://www.upledger.com/therapies/index.php

Ernst, E. Craniosacral therapy: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. 2012. Accessed March 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0052336/

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