From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All
Craniosacral therapy (a.k.a. craniopathy and cranial osteopathy) is a holistic therapy that involves the manipulation of the skull bones (the cranium) and the sacrum to relieve pain and a variety of other ailments, including cancer. (The sacrum is a bone between the lumbar vertebrae and tail vertebrae, composed of five fused vertebrae that form the posterior pelvic wall.) The therapy was invented by osteopath William G. Sutherland in the 1930s. Another osteopath, John Upledger is the leading proponent of craniosacral therapy today. Like other holistic therapies, this one emphasizes subjective concepts such as energy, harmony, balance, rhythm and flow.
Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral "rhythm" in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system. The balance and flow of this rhythm is considered essential to good health. The rhythm is measured by the therapist's hands. Any needed or effected changes in rhythm are also detected only by the therapist's hands. No instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, hence no systematic objective measurement of healthy versus unhealthy rhythms exists. The measurement, the therapy and the declared cure are all subjectively based. As one therapist puts it:
During the treatment, the client is usually supine on a table. The therapist assesses the patterns of energy in the body through touch at several "listening stations" and then decides where to start that day and how to focus the treatment. [Woodruff]
The same therapist maintains that the therapy is "a waste of time and money" for people who do not have faith in the therapy. Successful treatments, however, may well be due to the placebo effect and subjective validation.
Skeptics note that the skull does not consist of moveable parts (unlike the jaw) and the only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid is related to the cardiovascular system. When tested, several therapists were unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm. In a systematic review of the scientific evidence for craniosacral therapy, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA) concluded that
there is insufficient scientific evidence to recommend craniosacral therapy to patients, practitioners or third party payers for any clinical condition. (1999)
The authors of the review note that while "there is evidence for a craniosacral rhythm, impulse or 'primary respiration' independent of other measurable body rhythms (heart rate, or respiration)," there is no valid evidence that this rhythm "can be reliably perceived by an examiner" or that it has any influence on health or disease states.
Some Notes on Cranial Manipulative Therapy by William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.