What is Craniosacral Therapy?

therapy“You should have your head examined!” We’ve all heard that expression at some time after expressing some thought that was perceived as being ridiculous. Of course this is not meant to be taken literally. Nobody believes that stupidity can be diagnosed by physically examining the head. But there are people who believe that various medical conditions can be diagnosed in this way; in fact, not only diagnosed but treated. We’re talking about something called Craniosacral therapy.

This rather unusual regimen can be traced back to Dr. William Sutherland, an American osteopath who practiced in the first half of the last century. Osteopaths believe that physical manipulation of the skeleton can alleviate many health problems. But Dr. Sutherland added a further twist. He contended that manipulating the bones of the skull was the key to curing illness. Why? Because such manipulation would affect the functioning of the cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Sutherland noted that this fluid pulsed rhythmically and somehow concluded that changes in the natural rhythm caused disease. These irregular pulsations could then be corrected by gently manipulating the bones of the skull in order to alleviate restrictions on the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid.

Sutherland was promptly labeled a heretic and a quack by other physicians but received strong support from many patients who claimed that a variety of health problems resolved with craniosacral therapy. And what does modern medicine say about this? Pretty well that it’s all bunk. The bones of the skull are not amenable to manipulation as Sutherland and his later followers claim. They actually fuse during infancy. While it is true that the cerebrospinal fluid does pulse, this is actually related to blood flow, not to any mysterious force. Indeed the whole idea of a craniosacral rhythm cannot be scientifically supported.

When different practitioners are asked to measure this supposed rhythm by placing their fingers on a patient’s head, they come up with vastly different craniosacral rates. This isn’t surprising, since they are trying to measure something that doesn’t exist. Then in response to their measurements, they apply specific manipulations to the skull and claim to be able to help chronic back pain, autism, asthma, learning difficulties, fibromyalgia and a host of other conditions. Practitioners also claim that their skull manipulations are preventative and can bolster resistance to disease. They report that patients who have regular craniosacral adjustments feel more energetic and happier. The greatest proponent of this therapy today is Floridian osteopath, Dr. John Upledger. And if his skull manipulation doesn’t work, he has other approaches. A patient who is over anxious may be diagnosed with having excess energy and can expect his toe to be grounded with a copper wire to a drainpipe in order to let the excess energy flow out. In one case a lady was tethered with a 30 foot copper wire so she could still whirl around the house as her energy was drained away. What can I say? She should have her head examined.


Joe Schwarcz

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