An Introduction to CranioSacral Therapy: Part One

The Why:

During my career as a massage therapist, I have noticed the very critical and direct relationship the state of the nervous system has on the condition of soft tissue. In my experience, the more a nervous system can relax during a massage treatment, the greater the reduction in muscle tension and overall benefit of the massage. More specifically, if I use pressure that is within the comfort of the client’s nervous system it gives their soft tissue a genuine opportunity to relax. The aim is not to trigger pain receptors to an uncomfortable level that could, in turn cause their nervous system to be on guard. The nervous system controls the muscles; if the nervous system is on guard, the muscles cannot fully relax. 

The main challenge I have come across in my time as a massage therapist is the “no pain no gain” attitude or similarly pride in a “high pain tolerance” attitude. While this approach may permit a particular firmness in massage, your body has pain receptors for a reason. Your body needs to tell your brain that there is an issue. However, the more we choose to push through this pain barrier and tell our body to “suck it up princess” due to a lack of time to deal with it, or think “it’ll come good”, the louder our body has to scream at us to get our brain’s attention. As a result, the load on our nervous system grows heavier. We blame our body for breaking down as we get older but, in reality, it just cannot continue to adapt and absorb the little niggles; it simply has no compensatory actions or energy left. 

This realisation and connection lead me to ask a question: “how can I have an even greater impact on helping the nervous system let go?” The journey of answering this question led me to discover craniosacral therapy. 

Craniosacral therapy is not well known in Australia, so firstly, let me introduce you to your craniosacral system (CSS) if you haven’t heard of it. Your CSS is made up of the three-layered membrane system that we call the meninges; cerebrospinal fluid and the structures within the membrane system that control fluid input and outflow from the system. It is the semi closed hydraulic system that houses your brain and spinal cord. The outer soft but tough membrane of your CSS is called the dura mater. The dura mater is responsible for retaining the cerebrospinal fluid around your brain and spine. There is a delicate rhythm & the fluid pressure is finely tuned which causes cerebral spinal fluid to move optimally around your spinal cord and brain delivering precious nutrients, removing harmful waste and regulating temperature.  This palpable rhythm is as essential, measurable and tangible as your breath and heart rate and is at the core of your physiology. It is this rhythm that craniosacral therapists use as a diagnostic tool. 

The CranioSacral System

The rhythm of your craniosacral system can be felt anywhere on the surface of your body as the ripple effect travels outward. This is just like the ripple effect seen in a pond when a pebble is dropped in. This rhythm is measured in rate, amplitude, symmetry and quality by the therapist. As this ripple travels outwards through the many different layers of tissue in your body it can meet barriers and resistance, just as the ripple from the pebble may meet when it comes to a twig or rock in the pond. A craniosacral therapist’s role is to detect and work with the body to rectify abnormal bone movement, barriers and resistance in the soft tissue, whether they are deep or superficial in your body. This is achieved using various, gentle, hands-on techniques to allow this rhythm to function optimally.

Your skull is made up of 22 bones – staggering right!!… All of these bones and the bones in the rest of your body, 206 in total, move slightly and in a specific plane to the rhythm of your craniosacral system when it is functioning optimally. In particular, when the bones in your head do not move in sync with this rhythm, it can cause many knock-on effects, such as headaches, migraines, hearing or vision issues to name but a few. 

A cross section view of your brain & meninges

Continued in Part two: Going Deeper.

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