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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

CranioSacral Therapy (CST)

You've heard me talk about how CranioSacral Therapy is going to become a regular part of my massage therapy practice, you may have even seen it added to my menu of services... but what exactly is CranioSacral Therapy and what does a session look like?

CranioSacral Therapy (sometimes abbreviated to CST) is a modality of massage therapy with origins in Osteopathy. CST features gentle, sustained pressure (usually for a duration of 2-5 minutes) applied through the hands and fingertips to obtain very very very subtle changes in the Craniosacral System. This modality is NOT what you would typically expect from a massage session; the service is provided with the client clothed with specific “holds” along the spine and cranium.


Gentle pressure is necessary for CST because allows practitioners to explore all the structures of  the CNS without triggering defensive reactions from the body or inflicting injury/harm. The sustained duration is required to monitor and encourage change through several cycles of the Craniosacral System.


The Craniosacral System is all the space that contains the central nervous system (CNS) which also includes, the brain, the spinal cord (and major nerves branching off), the spine(cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacrococcygeal complex & sacroiliac joint) the cranial bones and sutures, membranes (such as dura mater, arachnoid, and pia mater), and of course, cerebrospinal fluid.


The primary intention when working with the Craniosacral System is to release restrictions in the structures and fluids of the system. Which facilitates self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms within the whole body. Restrictions include abnormal structure of the bones and abnormal membrane tension and can present as inflammation, adhesions (knots), or somatic dysfunction.


CST is founded on the principles of Osteopathy: namely, the body as a whole (mind, body, spirit), that the body is self-healing, and that structure and function are interrelated. The simplest way to describe CST that I’ve heard is that practitioners are holding a mirror up to the body, with access to its reflection- it will self-correct.


The normal rate of Craniosacral rhythm (the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid) is 6-12 cycles/pulses per minutes. The pulse is created by the expansion and constriction of the cerebrospinal fluid. This cycle is happening throughout life, is palpable, and is separate from breathing or heart rate (and should not be confused with the rhythm of the Alpha wave of the Brain).


Maintaining healthy and normal cerebrospinal fluid rhythms is essential to health because the cerebrospinal fluid is responsible for cell growth and cell instruction and transmits light, vibration, and hormones along the spine. Because the craniosacral system is made up of the brain and spinal cord it has direct impacts on the CNS and indirectly influences al other body systems that the CNS has an effect on.


Clients report gentle and natural release of stress and trauma that has been indefinitely held within the body, relief or resolution of chronic conditions, accelerated injury recovery, deep relaxation and improved sleep, mental clarity/coherence and emotional stability, and a feeling of overall well-being and complete refreshment.

Indications that CST treatment is working, or the restrictions are being released include: rapid eye movement (REM) with client awareness, sudden changes to breathing, emotional releases, and involuntary sighs or other sounds.


Craniosacral Therapy is known for multitudes of clinical application and positive results for thousands of conditions such as: neural, muscular, and skeletal pain syndromes, headaches, TMJD, spinal dysfunctions, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, postsurgical rehab, autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities (including ADHD), motor system dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, PTSD and endocrine disorders. CST can almost always help clients struggling with almost any condition – even if it only serves to support and improve the success of other therapies.


Adverse side effects of CST treatment are uncommon, but conditions that contraindicate the use of CST include; acute or recent brain hemorrhage and stroke, recent spinal taps or other puncture of the craniosacral system, recent fracture of the cranial bones, vertebral column, and/or ribs, cerebral aneurysm, or any condition where changing the intracranial pressure would be harmful.


Accompanying Vlog:


Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB


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