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March 22, 2018

Craniosacral Therapy: An Overview


Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, non-invasive set of evaluations and techniques used to influence the function of the craniosacral system in the body. Developed by Dr. John Upledger DO, the therapy has been proven effective in treating a variety of different medical issues associated with pain and dysfunction. The therapy draws from an area of medicine known as cranial osteopathy which was developed by Dr. William Sutherland.

The word ‘craniosacral’ is a portmanteau of cranium and sacrum because the system extends from the cranium down through the spine and terminates in the sacrum. The craniosacral system protects the organs of the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, with cerebrospinal fluid and a network of membranous tissues. Because the craniosacral system encases the core of our nervous system, it plays a role in the development and function of our brain, spine, and extended nervous system. As such, dysfunction in the craniosacral system can be responsible for a variety of sensory, motor, and neurological disorders from chronic pain to learning disabilities.

As a treatment, craniosacral therapy is thought to stimulate the body’s innate healing mechanisms, improving central nervous system function, relieving the negative impacts of stress, and bolstering overall health and disease resistance. As the functioning of the craniosacral system is very subtle, practitioners utilize a light touch to test for restrictions and apply gentle techniques to influence the movement of cerebrospinal fluid within the system. These techniques can also extend to the manipulation of cranial, facial, and spinal bones to further facilitate proper function of the system. Craniosacral techniques also induce a state called a ‘still point’ where the cerebrospinal fluid ceases to circulate and the craniosacral system resets. The experience of a still point is extremely relaxing, dramatically reducing stress and calming anxiety.

Though the breadth of evaluations and techniques under the craniosacral unbrella is a robust method of bodywork unto itself, many of the basic skills can be integrated into a standard massage session. While practitioners often use craniosacral therapy to enhance relaxation and the efficacy of their work, massage therapists who are trained in this modality also develop a profound ability to palpate subtle changes in the body, thereby deepening the physical communication between the therapist and their client. These skills add more diversity to the range of clients and conditions that can be addressed in a standard session and also improves existing massage techniques by enhancing the therapists hands-on sensitivity. Further, the ability to create a craniosacral still point during a massage can facilitate deep relaxation and allow other massage techniques to ‘sink in’ as the client becomes more receptive.

For all the reasons above, at the San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork, we feel that basic craniosacral techniques are highly valuable for the average massage therapist to possess. While we teach some basics in our massage therapist program, in our Cranial-sacral I and Cranial-sacral II continuing education workshops, we focus on the most effective craniosacral techniques for massage therapists to integrate into their daily practices. If you are curious about craniosacral or just want to gain some practical skills to improve your massage sessions overall, these workshops are a wonderful and useful introduction to the capabilities of this remarkable therapy.

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San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork

School Campus
475 Valencia Street – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-474-4600
Student Clinic
– Located at the School Campus
475 Valencia Street – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
415-474-4600