People who opt for craniosacral therapy should have their head examined

craniosacralA while ago I wrote a little piece on “craniosacral therapy,” which I’ll share with you here. I never thought I would encounter this muddled piece of woo in Montreal. But it’s here. You can check it out below.

“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 mental increpitude 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 introduced the practice 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 its natural rhythm caused disease. These irregular pulsations he believed could 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 we say? She should have her head examined. And now you can do that right here in Montreal. I kid you not. See the link here:

Joe Schwarcz

One response to “People who opt for craniosacral therapy should have their head examined”

  1. Justin Tilson says:

    I have had a very different experience of cranial sacral therapy. In 97, I crashed my mountain bike and crushed T5 and T6 vertebra. The injury left me paralyzed below the chest. The doctors did what they could, installed steel rods in my back and pieced together my broken bones but the process left me in excruciating pain with severe spasms in my abdominal muscles and legs.

    The doctors and surgeons just shrugged their shoulders and offered me pain killers and anti-spasm pills.

    Shortly after that, I met a woman who was studying cranial sacral therapy at the Upledger Institute. She offered to work on me for free. I only had a handful of sessions with her (maybe 6). In that couple month period almost all my pain and spasticity went away FOR GOOD with zero side effects. On a 1 – 10 scale. I went from 8/9 to a 1 in pain and same in spasticity. I was still paralyzed but at least I wasn’t spastic and in pain.

    Several years later, while racing sit-skis I had another bad crash, ending up with a mangled shoulder and persistent headaches. I tolerated the headaches for many months before seeking treatment. In just a couple cranial sacral sessions my headaches were gone.

    I really, really don’t think the shift in well-being I experienced both times was placebo. I didn’t come into either experience with any expectation or belief, just an openness to see what might come of it.

    I think the author’s point of view in this article is extremely closed and hostile. Given my experience where nothing else worked and cranial sacral therapy made my life quite livable, I would say the rant above is just that.

    Of course, like any field some practitioners are better trained and more experienced than others and there are even camps within the field of cranial sacral therapy that approach things quite differently. Given these different approaches, one of them might work for you, or perhaps none but my lived experience leads me to believe there is very little harm in trying and with plenty of potential benefit in exploring what’s out there in the world of cranial sacral therapy.

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