Cranial Movement and Manual Therapy

The discovery of cranial movement stemmed from the osteopathic principle that structure and function are interrelated.


Exploring Cranial Movement and CST

In the 1920s, osteopathic student William Sutherland postulated that the cranial sutures were designed to allow movement, and if they didn’t allow cranial movement this could cause symptoms. Sutures in the skull are like expansion joints in a bridge. They allow a small amount of movement but prevent shearing. In this case the movement would be between the different cranial bones.


In the 1970’s, Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, witnessed the rhythmic movements of the dura during a spinal surgery in which he was assisting. The dura is a tough membrane that encases the brain and spinal cord, and is attached to the inside of the skull, the upper neck, the sacrum and the tailbone. Thanks to Dr. Upledger’s initial research and subsequent work, we now know that the soft tissues of the body normally move in concert with the rhythmic motion of the cranial bones.


A recent randomized controlled study with cross-over experimental design has demonstrated effectiveness of CST in the treatment of migraine. Although the sample size was small (n=20), the symptoms identified were similar to those patients diagnosed with concussion.


Robert Harris, RMT, of the Cranial Centre in Toronto, among others, have taken the principles and techniques of CST and developed them beyond what has been taught by Dr. Upledger at a basic level.


The Effects of Trauma on Connective Tissues

It is important to know that the delicate connective tissues of the body are very sensitive to trauma and may distort this rhythm. Several traumatic incidents may leave the body unable to adapt and compensate, creating symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms are far removed from where the connective tissue cause is. The connective tissue relates not just to the cranial bones and dura, but surrounds every tissue in the body down to the smallest cells. It is involved in both the soft and hard tissues of the body.


Also, due to the meandering nature of this connective tissue, as well as its electrical conductivity, the presentation of symptoms may be unusual. This may lead the untrained practitioner to believe that the patient is malingering. If symptoms or objective findings do not change within a reasonable period of time, there may be a connective tissue answer.


Manual Approach to Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy has developed into a manual (using the hands) approach designed to identify restrictions, and gently restore motion and function to the entire body. It can often be the solution by itself. Sometimes treatment will simply allow the patient to get back on track so that they can be progressed with more conventional approaches or return to their exercise program.


In Brian’s clinical experience, he found that CST has relieved headaches, spinal pain and TMJ (jaw) pain, as well as patients’ symptoms from fibromyalgia, acute or recurrent injuries—athletic or otherwise—and those from whiplash or head injury/concussion, which are sometimes not helped with other methods of treatment.


So what does a session actually feel like? The most common “side effect” is a feeling of deep relaxation. This relaxation is deeply therapeutic and an important component of tissue healing. It feels very much like meditation or waking up from a deep and restful sleep. Robert calls it a specifically directed mini yoga session for the soft tissues of the body. CST is one of the osteopathic approaches Brian uses to assist clients on their path towards wellness.


*The above information was gathered from course material and clinical experience.

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