Craniosacral Therapy Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Craniosacral therapy is a massage technique that involves light touch on various body points.  It is a popular treatment to reduce the pain related to Fibromyalgia.

Craniosacral therapy involves massaging the bones in the head (including those in the face and mouth), spine and pelvis area to improve the normal flow of fluid from head to the base of the spine for better health. Craniosacral therapy also helps to improve patients’ mood and feeling of well-being, which can lead to a reduction in widespread pain, chronic fatigue and headaches.  Craniosacral therapy is also said to improve sleeping patterns for people with fibromyalgia.

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Frequently Asked Question about Craniosacral Therapy

What can I expect to pay for a Craniosacral therapy session?

Depending on location and the qualifications of your practitioner costs can vary quite dramatically. Expect to pay anything from $40 - $120 per hour.

How Long will a session last?

Sessions will generally be between 60 and 90 minutes. For younger children (under 10) a first session of 60 minutes with follow up sessions of around 30 minutes may be enough.

How long will it take for me to feel the benefit?

This will depend on your personal circumstances e.g. what condition you are seeking treatment for. For chronic conditions this may take longer, but you may also find that the treatment will have unexpected effects of relieving symptoms of which you may not have been fully aware.

In the short term most patients report that the sessions lower stress & anxiety and promote relaxation of  the muscles and joints.

How many sessions will I need?

This will depend on the condition you are being treated for. Acute conditions may respond to just a few sessions while chronic conditions may take a significantly longer course to achieve desired results. It is often advisable to begin with a 4 or 5 sessions and extend the course if you feel it is working for you.

Does it hurt?

Craniosacral therapy is a form of massage which many patients find relaxing and pleasant. It is completely non-invasive.

How to Select a Good Craniosacral Therapy Practitioner

Practitioners of craniosacral therapists often also offer massage or chiropractic but be sure to find someone who has special training in the craniosacral method. If your problem is severe, you may want to consult a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) who has trained in this discipline. Craniosacral therapy may be covered by some insurance plans if it is received from a physical therapist or chiropractor.

Craniosacral therapy is also offered as a treatment for children by some practitioners who contend that infants and young children respond particularly well to this therapy because the bones of their skulls are more mobile than they will be in adulthood. They maintain that early intervention can permanently correct distortions of the skull or spine caused by a difficult birth. If you are considering this therapy for a child, consult a doctor of osteopathy who specializes in the craniosacral method for children.

History of Craniosacral Therapy

Developed in 1899 by William Garner Sutherland, Craniosacral therapy is based on Sutherland’s observation that the sutures where the temporal and parietal bones met were "beveled, like the gills of a fish, indicating articular mobility for a respiratory mechanism." Sutherland theorized that the bones surrounding the brain and spinal cord were designed to expand and contract in a similar way to the ribs during breathing.

Sutherland conducted experiments on himself, applying pressure to his skull via an apparatus he constructed. He observed that the pressure he applied could trigger headaches and digestive upsets, but if carefully regulated it could cure those same problems.

Techniques of cranial manipulation had been known to other cultures particularly in India and Ancient Egypt where similar practices has been going on thousands of years ago.

Sutherland’s ideas did not enjoy mainstream acceptance for some time, though by the 1940’s Osteopathic colleges began teaching the techniques he had developed. The field gradually developed but in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Osteopathic Physician John E. Upledger formalized and pioneered new steps in the techniques after years of clinical testing and research at Michigan State University where he served as professor of biomechanics.

Theory behind Fibromyalgia Treatment using Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy is a form of both energy work and very light massage.  The therapist places their hands on you to tune into the craniosacral system, and then they very gently massage the spine, the skull and its cranial sutures, diaphragms and fascia.  This eases the nerve passages and optimizes the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid through to the spinal cord.  It also restores misaligned bones to their proper position and helps the body's natural healing mechanisms dissipate the negative effects of stress on the central nervous system.

According to practitioners, the craniosacral system maintains the environment in which the central nervous system functions.  This includes membrames and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord, extending from the bones of the skull, face and mouth (which make up the cranium) down to the tailbone area (or sacrum).  This system is so critical that any disruption in it can cause sensory, motor and/or neurological disabilities.  This system (like blood flowing through the body) has a rhythm that can be felt with a very light touch, and so practitioners can feel and find any obstructions or stressors within that system.  They then assist the movement of the fluid and related soft tissues to help the body heal itself.

Because many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are believed by researchers to be related to dysfunctions or disregulations of the autonomic (sympathetic) nervous system, and some studies have shown brain abnormalities also related to the nervous system and  metabolite abnormalities in the hippocampus and because Fibromyalgia attacks are known to be potentially triggered by and worsened by stress, the theory is that craniosacral therapy helps the body to re-regulate the nervous system while providing stress relief and inducing feelings of both physical and emotional well-being, which then have a positive impact on the body, particularly for someone with Fibromyalgia.

Research of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Craniosacral Therapy

The number of research studies specific to Craniosacral Massage and Fibromyalgia is quite limited, although the well designed studies do tend to show positive benefits for people with Fibromyalgia who try Craniosacral therapy.  Here is a summary of two solid studies specific to this treatment for Fibromyalgia.

A randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of craniosacral therapy on pain and heart rate variability in fibromyalgia patients (2011)

Summary: This was a randomized controlled trial to determine the effects of craniosacral therapy on sensitive tender points and heart rate variability for people with fibromyalgia. 92 patients were randomly assigned to a group that received craniosacral therapy or a group that received a sham treatment.

After 20 weeks of treatment, the intervention group was showing significant reductions in pain at 13 of the 18 tender points. One year and two months later, the group that received the cranioscaral therapy showed significant differences versus the control group in the tender points and had the clinical global impression was one of improvement. The study concludes that "Craniosacral therapy improved medium-term pain symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia."


Influence of craniosacral therapy on anxiety, depression and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia (2011)


The goal of this study was to analyze the repercussions of craniosacral therapy on depression, anxiety and quality of life in fibromyalgia patients with painful symptoms.
The study was done as an experimental, double-blind longitudinal clinical trial with 84 patients with fibromyalgia being randomly assigned to a group that would receive craniosacral therapy or a group that would receive simulated treatment. The treatment was done for 25 weeks and anxiety, pain, sleep quality, depression and quality of life were measured at the beginning of the study then again at six months and one year post treatment. State anxiety and trait anxiety, pain, quality of life and Pittsburgh sleep quality index were significantly higher in the intervention versus placebo group after the treatment period and at the 6-month follow-up. However, at the 1-year follow-up, the groups only differed in the Pittsburgh sleep quality index. The study concludes that "approaching fibromyalgia by means of craniosacral therapy contributes to improving anxiety and quality of life levels in these patients."


Stories of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy (like most treatments) does not work for everyone with Fibromyalgia.  But there are many stories from people who have found it to be effective; either for the relaxation aspect, or because they did feel a reduction in pain after the treatment.  

The prevailing tone of most conversations about craniosacral therapy for fibromyalgia is that no one understands how it works, but the treatment experience itself is pleasant and relaxing (although a few people have said that any touch is too painful and so they chose not to try it) and that for some the affects are strongly positive, both in terms of physical and emotional well being.  

No one reports any negative affects from craniosacral therapy, as it is a very gentle treatment.  A number of people say that their physical therapists or chiropractors or other practitioners will finish a session with a short period of craniosacral massage.

Questions and Comments about Craniosacral Therapy for Fibromyalgia

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