Few systems have as much impact on the human body as the craniosacral system. It protects and nourishes the brain and spinal cord - and affects nearly every aspect of central nervous system performance. Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve over-all health and performance. It was pioneered and developed by Osteopathic Physician John E.Upledger after years of clinical testing and research at Michigan State University where he served as professor of biomechanics.
The rhythm of the brain and spinal fluid in the craniosacral system, which could be sensed throughout the whole body, could be interfered with by stress and disease. It forms a close relationship with all the major systems in the body. The goal of craniosacral therapy is to find and correct blockages and dysfunctions in the craniosacral rhythm, as well as in the soft and hard tissues of the body. Physical and psychological trauma and shocks are stored in cells and can lead to complaints on the emotional and physical level, even many years later. This also applies to the trauma associated with the birthing process.
Using a soft touch, generally no greater than 5 grams – about the weight of a Namibian 1dollar coin – practitioners release restrictions in the soft tissues that surround the central nervous system. CST is increasingly used as a preventative health measure for its ability to bolster resistance to disease.
Craniosacral therapy enhances the body's natural healing processes, and has been shown to be beneficial for a wide spectrum of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction, including:
Migraines, headaches, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, neck and back pain, emotional difficulties, motor coordination difficulties, stress and tension-related problems, depression, insomnia, central nervous system disorders, TMJ (tempero-mandibular joint) dysfunctions, orthopaedic problems, chronic fatigue, neurovascular or immune disorders, scoliosis, infantile disorders such as colic, feeding and sleeping problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, learning disabilities, fibromyalgia and other connective tissue disorders.
Craniosacral therapy for babies and children
Signs of physical and neurological stress and strain may be evident from birth onwards. Babies who find it hard to settle may be suffering from shock in their system that makes it difficult for them to believe the world is safe. Babies that have had to be separated from their mothers at birth sometimes don't realize that they are reunited.
Gentle attention to the baby's body language and the subtle movements within the baby's body enable the therapist to help the child and the parent or carer to develop the comfort and safety for the innate health of the system to heal itself.
Birth itself is a highly stimulating journey with many twists and turns and compressions as the baby moves through the bony pelvis. The baby’s head is designed to adapt readily and pliably to the rigorous pressures of the birth process. The infant’s skull bones overlap and bend to reduce the size of the head as it descends. At birth the infant skull commonly looks misshapen which gradually self-corrects in the first days after birth, assisted by yawning, suckling and crying. The cranial unmolding process sometimes may not resolve completely, especially with more difficult births (i.e. a very fast birth, a cesarean birth, the use of a vacuum extractor or forceps, an unusual presentation, or a baby with a large head), preventing full and proper growth and development in the baby.
Even where the birth process has been relatively easy, restrictions or compressions may persist in the baby’s head, spine and body. Intense compression over many hours, as is often the case, pushes the bones of the cranium up against each other and distorts the shape of the head. This is normal, and unavoidable, but if any of the cranial bones remain distorted, or if they fail to release completely, the distortions may prevent the proper formation of the skull, and thereby affect development of the brain, or impinge on associated structures such as nerves and blood vessels.
The body’s inherent self-healing powers are usually able to remould the compressed cranium back into its normal shape. However, this innate remoulding is not always completely successful; and the degree to which the restrictions and compressions are resolved varies considerably from baby to baby. If the labour has been long and hard, with the baby stuck in the birth canal with its head engaged, the distortions are likely to be more firmly imprinted and less readily resolved by nature.
The effects of these cranial bone restrictions vary considerably. The most severe cases can lead to cerebral palsy, autism, or epilepsy; less severe cases may result in inability or unwillingness to nurse properly, dyslexia, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, and squinting. It could also be linked with other minor common childhood complaints, such as allergies and asthma, as well as a decrease in general health and well-being.
Feeding Difficulties Nursing and latching problems may be evident due to mechanical stresses throughout the head, face and throat. Difficult or uncoordinated sucking can occur due to the nerves to the tongue and face being irritated. Traumatic events during the birth can result in excess pressure on the cranial nerves, particularly those that control the jaw/tongue/mouth. Compression of these cranial nerves (glossopharyngeal, vagus and hypoglossal) can cause nursing difficulties with babies unable to open their mouths widely enough to latch effectively. These babies can cause pain to the mother by clamping/biting on the nipple.
Colic and reflux Bouts of prolonged crying from colic and gas and regurgitation of milk may be signs of irritated nerves to the stomach and digestive system. If the vagus nerve to the stomach, which exits from the base of the skull, is irritated, it can impair digestion. The diaphragm, upper chest and throat may be distorted or under strain from the birthing process which can impede digestion and retaining contents of the stomach.
Sleeping disturbances Tension in a baby’s nervous system and strain on the membranes of the head may lead to over-stimulation, or being overly alert. This may result in restless sleep or very brief patterns of sleep.
Ear Infections Fluid drainage from the ear with blockage in the Eustachian tube can lead to recurrent ear infections. This may be caused by unresolved cranial molding, leading to compression of the bones and membranes of the ear impeding fluid drainage. Infections may never fully resolve leading to persistent, chronic ear infections with a compromised immune system.
Learning difficulties Poor concentration, fidgeting and hyper-activity may all be the result of a nervous system under stress. Cranial compression can feel uncomfortable leading to a child wanting to move to find more comfortable positions; over time, restlessness becomes a habit. Severe compression can affect normal patterns of learning.
Dental and Sinus Problems Blocked or running noses can result from impaired drainage of the sinuses and facial bones due to mechanically imbalanced cranial bones. Dental crowding and mouth breathing can also be addressed by targeting the underlying patterns of bony distortion from infancy or childhood injuries.
CST can also be beneficial for babies who are hypertonic with the classic arching posture. Arching or hypertonic babies are considered “tight”. This may be a sign of difficulties within the nervous system, possibly caused by pressure on the nerves during birth. CST is often very effective in reducing hypertonic behavior and encouraging the baby to nurse more efficiently by very gently relieving pressure on the nerves.
Other childhood problems which may benefit from Craniosacral therapy: -Asthma -Poor immune functioning/ chronic infections -Special needs (Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, etc) -Autism and Autism spectrum disorders -Excessive crying -Difficulties with bonding -Restlessness -Head asymmetry -Failure to thrive and weakened immunity.
The extremely gentle techniques used in CST encourage the body to correct itself. Babies and children are often very relaxed and may sleep well following a treatment, although reactions are variable; some children may also display a temporary burst of energy or unsettled behaviour for the first 24 hours after treatment.
Craniosacral Therapy in Pregnancy
The rapid changes in the mother's body during pregnancy are supported by craniosacral therapy, alleviating some of the discomfort that can be experienced. The growing foetus also benefits from the increased health and the release of tensions within the mother's body.