The facts

Craniosacral therapy is a gentle manual technique used to balance the elements of the craniosacral system - the bones, nerves, membranes, and fluids of the cranium and spine.

Connective tissue links these parts of our bodies. Membranes called meninges surround the brain and spinal cord. A clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) moves in the space surrounding the spinal cord and brain. The meninges and CSF protect the nervous system.

Like a doctor takes a pulse, a craniosacral therapist feels for certain points on a patient's body to sense the pulse of the CSF as it moves through the body. The CSF rhythm may be freely flowing or restricted. It is believed that restricted flow can create energy cysts that disrupt the functioning of surrounding tissues and organs.

Craniosacral therapists conduct treatments that are 30 to 60 minutes long, in which they use gentle manipulations to the movable bones of the skull to try to free up the flow of the CSF. In some treatments, patients move from manual manipulations to a technique called somatoemotional release, where the patient and therapist address the physical manifestation of an emotional trauma.

A word of caution

Craniosacral therapy should only be performed by practitioners trained in the practice, often osteopathic or naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, or massage therapists.

The benefits, effectiveness, and safety of craniosacral therapy have not been firmly established. It is a gentle, subtle manual therapy, but there have been reports of headaches, mood changes, and digestive problems after treatment. There is also a small risk of nervous system complications, including stroke, bleeding, aneurysm, or pressure in the brain.

Those with arthritis; heart disease; cancer; blood clotting disorders; or injuries or trauma to the brain, head, and spine should consult with their doctor before trying craniosacral therapy.

Be sure to tell your health care providers about any craniosacral therapy you have undergone.