How Craniosacral Therapy Alleviates Pain, Disability, and Dysfunction by Hemda Mizrahi
Physical Therapist and Craniosacral Therapy (CST) practitioner Tracy Lin joined me on âTurn the PageâÂ to talk about how CST goes beyond treating the physical symptoms of pain, disability and dysfunction, to address causes that are rooted in the psyche and emotions. If youâre still exploring ways you can regain your health and mobility post-injuries, illness, surgeries, or other issues, CST might be one of your âmissing links.â
Craniosacral Therapy complements most healthcare modalities, both mainstream and alternative, such as acupuncture, psychology, chiropractic care, and dentistry. It can be integrated as one of a host of other interventions used to address complex medical problems and needs.
After the show, Tracy shared the following three scenarios to further illustrate the benefits of CST. Perhaps you can find yourself, or someone you know in the presenting issues.
48-YEAR OLD FEMALE WITH DIAGNOSIS OF LEFT HIP LABRAL TEAR
The patient slipped on the floor while her foot was caught in the ground. She experienced pain when getting in and out of a cab, and when she was on her feet for more than two to three hours or with quick changes in direction. She also had pain while lying on her back, when bringing her left knee toward the opposite shoulder (with her foot positioned outward, which is an internal rotation of the hip).
TREATMENT WITH PT AND CST
Tracy says, âIn a typical PT session, I would have focused on strengthening and stretching both of her legs, emphasizing her left hip, along with some manual therapy. However, after guiding her through basic stretches and functional strengthening exercises that she could do at home, I primarily treated her with Craniosacral Therapy with intermittent therapeutic dialoguing. She opened up about a lot of stressful situations, both work-related and personal. Her left hip pain diminished over the course of weekly or bi-monthly sessions over a span of twelve to fourteen weeks. The pain subsided altogether when we discussed her relationship with her mother, which we discovered was a primary source of stress in her body. Although she was a stoic woman, she released some emotions (e.g. teary eyes) while speaking about her mother. Her craniosacral rhythm stopped during this outward expression of emotion, indicating that a source of health-related issues was surfacing from her unconscious to her conscious mind.
Although she was pain-free for the last few weeks I saw her, she requested to continue CST âjust in case the pain was to came back.â Recently, I spoke with her and she stated that she has had only a âslight twinge,â but is pain-free as far as sheâs concerned.â
70-YEAR OLD FEMALE WITH NECK PAIN/STIFFNESS
âThe patient did not tolerate stretching or soft tissue massage of her neck by another physical therapist using âconventional PT treatment,â since it was âtoo painful,â and caused her to be even more âtense.â Given that the patient was consistently teary-eyed and reported that stress was causing stiffness in her neck, she was referred to me by my colleague, who thought she required a âgentler and sensitiveâ approach.â
TREATMENT WITH CST
âThe patient enjoyed a combination of light touch and therapeutic dialoguing. She felt more ârelaxed,â with less pain after the sessions, and her range of motion, along with the soft tissue tightness in her neck, improved. I was consistently drawn to the tissues around her upper left thorax region, just below her collar bone. Over time she revealed that her husband was sick and now in a wheelchair. While her husband had a home health aide five days a week, for four to six hours, the patient was very attentive to his needs. Steering his wheel chair created a lot of strain on the weak muscles in her arms and neck. The patient talked about feeling insignificant in her marriage. Her husband frequently yelled at her and had numerous affairs early in their marriage. Given his lack of respect, she felt guilty and sad in anticipating the relief and freedom she might feel when he died. She realized that she had neglected herself, sacrificing her own needs to accommodate those of her children and husband. Ultimately, she failed to recognize her own self-worth.
In one session, she pictured her chest as a black, heavy object that was âpushing her down,â preventing her from moving. Through therapeutic dialoguing and imagery that elicited feelings of contentment, she felt lighter and freer in her chest, and began to feel the spark of a yearning to âlive her life.â She envisioned attending church on a regular basis and joining the choir, which had not been possible given her care-giving responsibilities and guilt. As she spoke about her âhappy place,â my hands were drawn to her heart, and the patient expressed that the âheavinessâ was releasing. She eventually established a positive and confident view of herself, committing to doing something that made her happy at least once a day without guilt, while her husband was in the care of the home health aide. As her self-assurance strengthened, the patientâs neck muscles became softer, with less to no report of stiffness.â
65-YEAR OLD FEMALE WITH A DIAGNOSIS OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
The patient was referred to PT due to increasing leg spasms that disturbed her balance and gait. She had chronic, intermittent back pain, constant bilateral knee pain from arthritis, and headaches. She walked with a cane, with a slow gait and small uneven steps due to the pain in her knees, and expressed a strong fear of falling.
TREATMENT WITH PT AND CST
I initially treated her with âconventionalâ PT, focusing on balance and gait activities, gentle stretching of her legs, functional strengthening with energy conservation techniques, and instruction on home exercises. In one session, the patient shared that she didnât do most of the home exercises so that she could conserve her energy for doctorâs appointments. She reported an increase in leg spasms that âthrew her balance offâ and an even greater fear of falling. As she described that her left leg, from her hip down to her knee, was in spasm, I noticed that she was walking much more slowly and carefully than usual. Inviting her to lay down on the mat and relax, I tuned into her craniosacral rhythm, noticing that it was âsluggish,â especially on her left side, below her rib cage.
After performing gentle hands-on techniques at her left hip and thigh, pelvic region, the full length of her spine (the dura mater, which is the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), her craniosacral rhythm improved in its rate and was more symmetrical with the left and right side. The patient noted that my hands felt very warm, and her tissues and some parts of her body were more ârelaxed.â After the session, she stated that her left leg spasms had decreased considerably. When she stood up to walk, she reported being much âsteadier.â As she departed, I observed that she was walking a little faster with more confidence, and a smile.
Depending on her fatigue level, the degree of pain in her knees, and left leg spasms, I continued to treat this patient with CST (versus conventional PT) for about 80% of our sessions for another seven to eight weeks, twice a week. After each CST session, the patient left with diminished pain and spasms, improved vitality in her craniosacral rhythm, and consequently, more energy. As a result of decreased pain and leg spasms, her balance and gait felt more âgrounded.â During her last session she reported having âmore good days than bad daysâ as a result of more developed mind/body awareness.â
Tracy shared that while patients with particularly complex health issues such as MS and chronic pain would benefit from further treatment, many are unable to continue their sessions for financial reasons. She notes however, that patients generally emerge from the course of treatment with tools and insights that result in much improved self-care.
HOW YOU CAN FIND A CRANIOSACRAL THERAPIST
Tracy suggests the Upledger Institute website (www.upledger.com) as a referral source for CST practitioners, in addition to âword-of-mouthâ recommendations from trusted healthcare providers.
In assessing whether or not a particular Craniosacral Therapist is a good fit for you, she advises: âFind out if a practitioner is certified, or how many courses he/she has taken, in addition to the number of years the therapist has been in practice. Ask if the practitioner is comfortable with treating your condition, and if he/she has treated similar issues. Many highly skilled Craniosacral Therapists are not certified but have substantial experience and training in CST. Without seeking perfection, trust whether or not you feel comfortable with the CST practitioner during the initial visit or treatment. A good CST therapist will assess whether or not he/she is best suited to treat you and may refer you colleagues who might better assist you.â
Learn more about the benefits of CST by listening to my conversation with Tracy
Tracy invites you to contact her at www.iahp.com/Tracy-Lin to discuss your questions about CST, and explore your interest in experiencing this âlight touchâ therapeutic technique firsthand.