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Cranio-sacral therapy

Catch a wave!

by Michael Braunstein

 
 
Only about a century ago, physician William Sutherland identified the system known as the cranio-sacral system. This system is somewhat enclosed just as is the blood system. As its name indicates, it involves the central nervous system from head (cranium) to tail (the sacrum.) The vital fluid here is cerebro-spinal fluid or CSF. CSF is the liquid that surrounds the brain and the membranes lining it. It also flows down the hollow of the spinal cord and all the way down to the sacrum.

 

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Brainstorm. What a concept! Imagine being inside your head during a brainstorm. Picture standing on the coastline of your own gray matter and watching the wind whip up the waters. Wave after wave of cerebral fluid pounding against the curves and folds of your cortex. Your entire brain is jostled in its housing. Synapses fire and resemble bursts of lightning in the brainstorm-y "sky" inside your skull. The "sea" around you roils with the ebb and flow of the tidal waves. In the middle of that "storm," wouldn't it be nice to be able to just raise your hand and calm the sea down, to see the waves slow to an even pulse? Imagine that the sea of crashing waves and pounding surf could become placid and smooth; that the brain might be relieved of the tempestuous torrent around it. Imagine that the waves of cerebral fluid might become regular and calming, no more brainstorm. The funny thing about this image is that it's not all that far from what really happens. The brain really does float in what is called cerebro-spinal fluid.

Most of us are aware that we have a blood circulatory system. We know that it consists of a heart and blood vessels that comprise a closed system containing a vital fluid, blood. We are also aware that the system pulses and has rhythmic characteristics that are an indication of our condition. In fact, the blood system was identified fairly early on in the history of anatomy. It's basic. What many of us do not ordinarily think about though, is that the blood system is not the only important and crucial circulatory system in the body.

HEADS AND TAILS
The blood system was pretty obvious to early anatomists. It was centuries before other systems became identified; like the lymphatic system. For example we now know that lymph also is a vital body fluid that flows through another system of "pumps" and vessels just as does the blood. And there are others.

Only about a century ago, physician William Sutherland identified the system known as the cranio-sacral system. This system is somewhat enclosed just as is the blood system. As its name indicates, it involves the central nervous system from head (cranium) to tail (the sacrum.) The vital fluid here is cerebro-spinal fluid or CSF. CSF is the liquid that surrounds the brain and the membranes lining it. It also flows down the hollow of the spinal cord and all the way down to the sacrum.

Noting the anatomy, as early biologists did, is not the same as realizing its characteristics fully. For that we can thank Sutherland. He was an osteopathic physician and broke from the standard thinking of the day when he surmised that the bones that make up the skull are not statically fused together. He found that where skull bones met, known as sutures, there was actually the capacity for movement. The sutures were actually joints; not as active as some body joints, but joints nonetheless.

What Sutherland also discovered was that the system had a regular pulse to it just like a heartbeat. When the waves moved through the system, the skull bones expand and the movement could be detected by a properly trained therapist resting his hands on the clients' head. In an out-of-balance condition, the waves were stormy and irregular. In a healthy condition, they were balanced and calm. Not a lot different from the interpretation that a physician gets from taking a heart pulse.

Joe Siracusano is associate professor and physical therapist at University of Nebraska Medical Center. He uses Cranio-sacral therapy in his work. In a previous Heartland Healing interview, he noted that it's not surprising that an osteopath discovered this system.

"An osteopathic doctor's training is exactly the same as an M.D.'s with additional training in manipulative medicine," Siracusano said. Manipulative medicine is the movement of the body systems like the muscle system or skeletal system, like chiropractic.

"Sutherland found that the skull bones move with each pulse cycle. We now have research that shows it is about 2 to 3 mm each pulse. When Sutherland showed this information, there were skeptics. That's still true today even though we have research to show it," Siracusano said.

Sutherland worked with cranio-sacral therapy during the first part of the 1900s. For several decades though, the medical establishment ignored it and even ridiculed his work. Not enough research had satisfied the mainstream. It wasn't until an osteopath named John Upledger observed the pulse of the spinal membranes in a patient undergoing neck surgery that cranio-sacral began to receive its current notice.

In 1975 Upledger and a team of researchers at Michigan State University began to demonstrate the scientific basis for many of the therapeutic results Sutherland had gotten in his work. When a practitioner can interact with the C-S pulse and balance the waves, the client can show relief from a number of problems.

At the UNMC Pain Center, Siracusano mainly uses C-S therapy to alleviate chronic pain but notes there are more uses.

"It is also used to address central nervous system disorders, brain injury, birth defects, tempero-mandibular jaw (TMJ) problems, lower back problems, digestive ailments and headache," said Siracusano.

THE MIND/BODY THING
"The scope of application expands through the use of the somato-emotional mind/body connection," Siracusano continued. "The process used by the practitioner is a very light touching with the hands to the skull, only about 5 to 10 grams' pressure."

But this touch actually contacts the central nervous system because of a fact of anatomy. "The skin tissue develops from the same embryonic cells as the central nervous system(CNS.) Therefore the therapist is in communication directly with the CNS and there [can be] a kind of 'touch-induced therapeutic trance.'"

This means a lot of things. For one, the therapist is in direct communication with the client on a deeper level.

"Some therapists can intuitively pick up on any sort of feedback from the client and hone in on different systems of the body [that may have a problem]," he said.

There's something else, too. The mind/body connection often results in somato-emotional release. Emotional memory can be triggered and that can become part of the release therapy as well. "This is called 'unwinding'," Siracusano explained.

The body stores emotional energy such as sadness, fear, anger, in physical ways. When it becomes trapped or blocked in the body, dis-ease results. Through C-S manipulation and supportive contact with the client, the practitioner can facilitate the release of that blocked emotional energy and dramatic results are possible.

In a C-S session, the practitioner usually begins with the light touch of hands on the head. Adjusting or interacting with the C-S pulse is very subtle but the results can be dramatic. By grasping the backs of the heels of the feet, the therapist can re-adjust the flow all the way down to the sacrum. Some practitioners combine other skills like reiki or zero balancing with C-S.

"Anyone licensed to touch can use cranio-sacral," said Siracusano. "That would include physical therapists, nurses, doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors and such."

Dr. Upledger operates a training school in Florida and there are other schools around the country that certify practitioners. A number of therapists utilizing cranio-sacral therapy in this area are identified in the Cranio-sacral listing of the HeartlandHealing.com Directory.

Be well.


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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.


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