What is the difference between CranioSacral Therapy and Cranial Osteopathy?

Written by Katolen Yardley, DO (EU), MNIMH, RH (AHG)

Origins of CranioSacral and Cranial Osteopathy

Both CranioSacral Therapy and Cranial Osteopathy are branches of Osteopathy. Second, both fields originate from students of osteopathy and similarly both techniques share the philosophy of the practitioner gently facilitating the body’s own innate ability to self-correct. 

In the early 1900’s, Dr William Sutherland, was a student of Dr Andrew T Still in Kirksville, Missouri. (Aside: For those readers who are hearing the name Andrew T. Still for the first time, he was the founder of Osteopathy.) Dr. William Sutherland observed the bones of the skull and their points of interconnection – the sutures- noticing their unique design to allow for slight movement in relationship to one another. This was originally considered a radical idea that contradicted anatomy texts and medical beliefs of the time -which incorrectly taught the supposition that all skull bones fuse together without any movement. Since that time, and due largely to Dr Sutherland’s’ life long research in Cranial Osteopathy; it is now accepted that there are slight fluctuations of movement within the bones of the cranium.

In comparison, CranioSacral Therapy originated from Dr Upledger during surgery in the 1970’s when he observed a rhythmic fluctuation of the dura membrane and meninges during surgery. Years of further study led to Dr Upledgers theory that there is a semi closed hydraulic system inside the membranous sac which circulates from the cranium, down the spinal column until to the sacrum. Building on Dr Sutherlands techniques, Upledger gathered teams of researchers to dive into understanding the craniosacral system and study its implications on numerous health conditions. Dr Upledger created the Upledger Institute which furthers education and research.

CranioSacral practitioners are trained to gently tune into this rhythm and facilitate the release imbalances and any restrictions in the membranes that could potentially lead to sensory, motor or neurological dysfunctions.

Movement facilitates life

Both forms of therapy recognise the importance of movement in facilitating life – all life. Movement is life. Diving into philosophy, every cell in our bodies in is motion, responding to constant fluctuations of pressure and different rhythms within the body. When there is continual statis – or when a body (or an area of the body) is stagnant or in constant restriction then dis-ease can manifest requiring compensation from other body areas.

Cranial Osteopathy Overview

One of the core principles of Cranial Osteopathy is the primary respiratory rhythm. This theory encompasses assessment of the central nervous system, cranial bones, sacrum, cranial and spinal dura and the cerebro-spinal fluid within. Change to bone position can lead to subtle cyclical shape changes in the skull and possible restriction of cerebro-spinal fluid. Consider briefly, the impact that trauma to the head can have on the numerous delicate bones which, when in alignment, fit together like puzzle pieces. The impact of birth trauma, illness, concussions, direct blunt force or injury to one area of the skull can lead to shifts and alterations to the flow of fluids. Or the manifestations of physical symptoms such pain, dizziness, chronic headaches, or more chronic changes such as motor, sensory or neurological symptoms may develop.

The body’s homeostatic, self regulatory mechanisms are always attempting to restore the body to a point of health or balance. Both approaches affect the cranium, spinal cord, sacrum and coccyx however cranial osteopathy works more specifically with the bones and sutures themselves while craniosacral works deeper on the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The practitioner identifies areas of physical restriction and to assists the body to self heal by using a variety of highly specific techniques to bring about a resolution.

At Alinear Osteopathy, with offices in Vancouver and Port Moody, BC – our manual osteopathic practitioner has training in both cranial osteopathy and craniosacral therapy – providing options of treatment and care for the client. Learn more about Osteopathy, its guiding philosophical principles and its associated health benefits or contact us to book your appointment today.

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