What the #$%! is Craniosacral Therapy?
A few months ago I developed a strange symptom. Every time I woke up, either from a nap or after a night of sleep, I would wake with a start, my stomach doing flip flops and my heart racing. It was as if I was waking up from a horrifying nightmare, only I wasn’t. My mind felt calm, yet my body felt terrified.
Over time it became worse and worse, to the extent that I was having these symptoms on an ongoing basis throughout the day. I had butterflies in my stomach, and the rest of my digestive system was not only doing backflips, but also mastering other acrobatics. My heart would race for no reason at various times throughout the day. Every time I yawned if felt like my stomach was going to jump out of my body. It was not surprising that I lost my appetite as well.
I'm going to pause here to give you a little bit of background information: I live with several chronic health conditions that fall under the umbrella of Central Sensitivity Syndrome (CSS). What this means is that my nervous system has gone haywire, specifically my autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling unconscious bodily functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.
Because I was aware that the CSS was likely the cause of my symptoms, I managed to remain pretty level-headed about what was going on. As level headed as you can be when your body is reacting as though you are having an intense and continuous anxiety attack for no apparent reason. After a while though, I started having anxious thoughts as a result of the physical symptoms. To top if all off, the worst of it hit while I was on holidays.
The Benefits of Craniosacral Therapy
When I got home the first thing I did was go, twitching, sweating and swearing, to see my physiotherapist, who uses craniosacral therapy (CST) almost exclusively. Why not see my doctor first? Let me explain.
I walked into my physiotherapist's office feeling like I what I really needed was a major medication adjustment. However, after she worked on my neck and upper back (specifically the vagus and phrenic nerves) for about 30 minutes, my stomach, digestive system and heart all felt completely calm. After months of mild to moderate symptoms, and two weeks of often close to unbearable and extremely distressing symptoms, I felt like myself again. Miraculous! This is just one example of the sort of results I have experienced with CST.
I must pause here to say that it is imperative you visit your doctor before trying any alternative therapies, such as CST. No type of therapy is meant to replace proper medical care. Because I have so much experience with CST, and I was up-to-date with my doctor, I was able to make the decision who to see first. Also, caveat, just because CST works so well for me, does not guarantee you will get the same results.
So What the #$%! is CranioSacral Therapy?
According to the folks at Jericho Physio (my second home):
"The Craniosacral System is a recognized physiological system in the body that is comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. The Craniosacral System extends from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (which make up the cranium) down to the tailbone area (or sacrum). Craniosacral Therapy works by helping the body's natural healing mechanisms dissipate the negative effects of stress on the Central Nervous System. The Craniosacral System has a palpable rhythm that can be felt throughout the body just like the pulse of the cardiovascular system. Trained Craniosacral therapists use a gentle, hands-on method to evaluate and monitor this rhythm at key body points to locate the source of a restriction in the system."
Clear as mud, right? To clarify, the following has been my experience of CST: I lie on my back on a massage table, fully clothed, and my physiotherapist holds my head, shoulders, trunk and/or pelvis in her hands. I feel her making micro-movements with her hands. If I pay close attention, I can feel my body responding - my stomach gurgling, the tension in my abdomen releasing, and sometimes emotions arising. It's a very relaxing experience and at times I drift off into dreamland.
A Promising Alternative
What pleases me so much about having CST in my healing toolbox is that it gives me an effective alternative to the likely other option: visiting my doctor, and either having my medication increased/changed or told that she doesn't know what the problem is and there is nothing she can do to help. It makes me wonder how many other people out there are medicated or frustrated when CST might be able to help them.
According to various online resources, CST can help with the following conditions:
Chronic Neck and Back Pain
Central Nervous System Disorders
Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries
Stress and Tension-Related Problems
Fibromyalgia and other Connective-Tissue Disorders
Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)
Neurovascular or Immune Disorders
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you decide to try it out, chose your practitioner carefully and make sure they are a good fit for you. If it's not working out, give someone else a try. As with any kind of therapy, I find that the best indicator of a successful outcome is based more on the relationship between the client and service provider than on anything else.
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