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Craniosacral Therapy (or Cranial Osteopathy)

Picture of a head massageWhat is Craniosacral Therapy (or Cranial Osteopathy)?

William G. Sutherland, who practised as an osteopath in the 1930s, became convinced that our health is governed by minute motions of the bones of the skull and sacrum. These subtle rhythms, he believed, are fundamental to the self-healing processes of our bodies.

Craniosacral therapy aims at restoring the rhythmic motions when they are restricted. This is claimed to help with a range of conditions, particularly in children: birth trauma, cerebral palsy, chronic pain, dyslexia, headaches, learning difficulties, sinusitis, trigeminal neuralgia and many others. Today, craniosacral therapy is practised by several alternative therapists, including osteopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths and massage therapists.

A consultation with a craniosacral therapist would include a detailed manual diagnosis, so the first session may last one hour or longer. Subsequent therapeutic sessions, during which the therapist gently manipulates the skull and sacrum, would be shorter. A typical treatment series might involve six or more sessions.

Conventional wisdom has it that, during early childhood, the bones of the skull and the sacrum fuse to form solid structures. Even if minute motions between these bones were possible, they would be unlikely to have a significant impact on human health. In other words, craniosacral therapy is biologically implausible.

What is the Evidence?

The research fails to demonstrate that craniosacral therapy is effective in treating any condition. Moreover, therapists struggle to give consistent diagnoses for the same patient, probably because they are attempting to detect a non-existent phenomenon. Mothers bringing their children to a therapist are sometimes
impressed by the positive reaction. This is likely to be a relaxation response caused by the gentle touch and calming manner of the therapist, but these effects are usually shortlived and the treatment can be expensive. There are no conceivable risks, but if severely ill children are treated with craniosacral therapy instead of an effective treatment, the approach becomes life threatening.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine