What is Cranio-Sacral Therapy?
Cranio-Sacral Therapy is an osteopathic method for treating the head, which is mostly thought of as a bony “bowl” that contains the brain. It is often believed to be in one piece with a hole for the spinal cord to enter into the spinal canal.
In reality, as you can see, the cranium consists of several bones that form that bowl: the parietal bones and the temporal bones (paired ones on each side); the frontal bone in front; the occiput in back; and a central one, the sphenoid bone, that partly forms the back of our eyes. They are totally separate from each other. They are joined very closely to each other by connective tissue.
You can get an idea of this when you touch the head of a newborn. You can feel the anterior fontanelle — the soft opening in the midline — the head of the baby having not finished growing to close that gap. This is a good thing because being born is not an easy enterprise: The exit is very small, and the bones of the head have to actually ride over each other for the baby’s head to get out. Birth is actually the first occasion when the cranial bones might get out of alignment, and if that happens they may never find their good place.
Other causes for cranial misalignment may be small or large accidents, concussions, or blows to the head.
How is Cranial Alignment Important?
Some so-called cranial lesions may be tiny, but they may still cause trouble. Some may be clearly visible, as eyes that do not sit quite evenly, ears that stick way out, or faces that are not really even side to side. We have been educated to consider facial irregularities as “inborn,” not to be commented on, being personal and normal. They are not. People may be able to live with them just fine. With a little luck they may only cause minor symptoms.
But not all of us are lucky, and chronic headaches, migraines, upper neck pain, vague or even intense pressure preventing restful sleep, irritability, and anxiety may all result from cranial strain.
One day I impatiently asked my osteopathic teacher: “So there is an imbalance in my head. So what?” Without even blinking, he answered “You will experience the world as a threatening place if there is tension in your head,” which made me shut up fast.
"Chronic headaches, migraines, upper neck pain, vague or even intense pressure preventing restful sleep, irritability, and anxiety may all result from cranial strain."
What Does the Sacrum Have to Do with It?
Cranial imbalances can be related to what is going on in other parts of the body: more obviously the neck, less obviously the entire spine down to the last bone of the spine, the sacrum,
the so-called keystone that sits between our hip bones in the back. There is a reason for this: All of our nervous tissue, the brain and the spinal cord, is surrounded and securely held by layers of connective tissue inside the head and inside the spinal cord. That tissue is continuous. It follows the spinal cord all the way down and attaches to the sacrum. That is why this method is called Cranio-Sacral Therapy.
I have never seen a cranial problem that is not reflected in the sacrum and vice versa—unless the problem is very recent, just a few days old or so. People might not really notice this connection; they will notice varying degrees of low back pain that accompanies their head and neck pain or the other way around.
"I have never seen a cranial problem that is not reflected in the sacrum and vice versa—unless the problem is very recent..."
How Does Cranio-Sacral Therapy Feel?
For people who have never had Cranio-Sacral Therapy, it feels like the hands are just holding the head or the sacrum and not really doing that much.
The cranium and the sacrum are structures that protect the most vital parts of the body: the brain tissue and the nerves. The bones of the skull and of the hips are very tightly connected, they have tiny ranges of motion, and they never move fast.
More often than not, patients just almost or actually go to sleep when I hold their head or sacrum to find out how they are misaligned and to adjust them. The treatment consists of very slowly moving the bones, like moving a spoon through thick honey. Only after some time do people notice that their head is feeling less tightly wound and that their low back has more freedom.