Spotlight on: Craniosacral therapy

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Each month Fitness Journal puts the spotlight on a health profession or treatment. This month physiotherapist and Craniosacral therapist Frans van de Weerd offers an insight into Craniosacral therapy.

What is it?
Craniosacral therapy (CST) uses therapeutic touch to manipulate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium.

How does it work?
Craniosacral therapy works by helping the body’s natural healing mechanisms dissipate the negative effects of stress on the central nervous system.

This is accomplished through utilising a physiological body system (called the craniosacral system), which maintains the environment in which the central nervous system functions.

It consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid which surround and protect the brain and spinal cord, extending from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (which make up the cranium) down to the tailbone area (or sacrum).

The role of this system in the development and performance of the brain and spinal cord is so vital that an imbalance or dysfunction in it can cause sensory, motor and/or neurological disabilities.

Like the pulse of the cardiovascular system, the craniosacral system has a rhythm that can be felt throughout the body.

Using a touch generally no heavier than the weight of a coin, skilled practitioners can monitor this rhythm at key body points to pinpoint the source of an obstruction or stress.

Once a source has been determined, they can assist the natural movement of the fluid and related soft tissue to help the body self-correct.

This simple action is often all it takes to remove a restriction. Other times, CST may be combined with other complementary therapies to help restore the body to its optimum functioning level.

What conditions can craniosacral therapy help?
Because of its influence on the functioning of the central nervous system, craniosacral therapy can benefit the body in a number of ways – from bolstering overall health and resistance to disease, to alleviating a wide range of specific medical conditions.

Among CST’s largest patient groups are those suffering chronic symptoms which haven’t been aided by other approaches. In particular, CST is beneficial to those with head, neck or back injuries resulting from an accident – be it from a car, sports or work mishap or from a fall.

The extremely light touch involved in the application of CST makes it a safe approach as well for children, infants and newborns with early traumas, including birth trauma.

They especially can benefit from the timely identification and release of restrictions in the craniosacral system, thereby preventing future difficulties such as learning disabilities or hyperactivity.

Another area of principal effectiveness is with stress-related dysfunctions. Insomnia, fatigue, headaches, poor digestion, anxiety and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction are just a few examples.

Craniosacral therapy works to reverse the debilitating effects of stress by providing the conditions in which the nervous system can rest and rejuvenate.

Other conditions for which craniosacral therapy has shown to be effective are various sensory disorders.

Among these are eye-motor coordination problems, autism, dyslexia, loss of taste or smell, tinnitus, vertigo and neuralgias such as sciatica and spasms.

Is there any condition for which craniosacral shouldn’t be used?
There are certain situations where application of CST would not be recommended.

These include conditions where a variation and/or slight increase in intracranial pressure would cause instability.

Acute aneurysm, cerebral hemorrhage or other pre-existing severe bleeding disorders are examples of conditions that could be affected by small intracranial pressure changes.

How many craniosacral therapy sessions will I need?
Response to CST varies from individual to individual and condition to condition. Everyone’s response is uniquely their own and can’t be compared to anyone else’s – even cases which may appear to be similar. The number of sessions needed varies widely – from just one up to three or more a week over the course of several weeks.

What is the history of craniosacral therapy?
In 1970, osteopathic physician John E Upledger first observed the rhythmic movement of what would soon be identified as the craniosacral system. None of his colleagues or any medical texts at the time could explain this discovery.

Dr Upledger began searching for the answer. He started with the research of Dr William Sutherland, the father of cranial osteopathy.

For 20 years, beginning in the early 1900s, Sutherland had explored the concept that the bones of the skull were structured to allow for movement.

For decades after, this theory remained at odds with the beliefs of the scientific and medical communities.

Dr Upledger believed that if Sutherland’s theory of cranial movement was true, this would help explain, and make feasible, the existence of the rhythm he had encountered in surgery. Dr Upledger set out to scientifically confirm the existence of cranial bone motion.

From 1975 to 1983 he served as clinical researcher and Professor of Biomechanics at Michigan State University, where he supervised a team of anatomists, physiologists, biophysicists and bioengineers in research and testing.

The results confirmed Sutherland’s theory, but led to clarification of the mechanisms behind this motion – the craniosacral system.

Dr. Upledger’s continued work in the field ultimately resulted in his development of craniosacral therapy.

Other benefits?
Because CST works on regulating the whole body it has an amazing effect on the hormonal system. The adrenal, period hormones and thyroid hormones respond amazingly well to this treatment.

How and why did you become involved?
I have always looked at the human body as a powerful self-regulating system. So when clients come in with a health problem CST supports me as a practitioner to facilitate their healing process.

How do you become qualified?
As a physiotherapist I became a qualified CST practitioner through studying with the Upledger/Barral Institutes. This group organises courses around the world for medical practitioners.

What are the most common misconceptions?
That the treatment is done from the head only. When using CST any part of the body can be worked on. The other misconception is the idea of ‘no pain – no gain’; in CST only soft touch with very little pressure is used to achieve the best outcome.

The most surprising fact for most is that by using such a gentle treatment the person’s own healing mechanism is allowed to kick in and the results are so much better from when force or strong medication are used.

What is the average cost per treatment?
The average cost at Naturally Healthy is $65 or an ACC surcharge of $22. Prices very depending on practitioners.

Frans van de Weerd is a qualified physiotherapist, classical homeopath and craniosacral therapist, as well as co-owner with wife Monica of Naturally Healthy stores. Frans uses his qualifications and diverse knowledge to fulfil his philosophy of providing an individual, effective, gentle and holistic approach for health and wellbeing.

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