What is CranioSacral Therapy?

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle form of bodywork used to release restrictions in the body. Sounds relatively simple. But in reality, CST is so much more than that.

The original form of CST, developed by Dr. John Upledger, focused on balancing the natural rhythm of cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Through his work, he found that restoring this natural rhythm helped patients with headaches, migraines, neck pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other conditions that are primarily affected by the central nervous system. 

But how do you restore the natural rhythm of the cerebral spinal fluid? Well, Dr. Upledger studied and expanded the work of Dr. William Sutherland that showed that each cranial bone has a distinct movement. Most of us think of our skull as one complete structure. But it is actually made up of many different bones that are not completely fused together. These bones are capable of micro-movements. And when their movement is restricted, this can disrupt the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. So, a primary focus of CST is to release the cranial bones to restore the natural rhythm of the cerebral spinal fluid.

But it turns out that all the bones in the body have a natural micro-movement. So CST has expanded beyond just the cranial system. CST techniques can also be used to release restrictions in other bones and joints. Oftentimes, restrictions outside the cranial system are associated with restrictions in connective tissue, called the fascia. This connective tissue spans our entire body and therefore connects our all parts of our body. This means that restrictions in one are can be transmitted to other area or bones through the fascia. This is often something we see with physical trauma. For example, if you fall hard on your knee, the force of that impact, overtime can be transmitted to your neck. So your current neck pain may be related to your fall that you had 2 years ago.

CST assesses all the fascia and the bones to identify restrictions and to release them to reduce pain and improve physical health. But CST can also be used to improve mental & emotional wellbeing. When we have a negative emotional experience, this can have a profound impact on our neurobiology, changing the way the brain is wired and how our nervous system functions. So through our nervous system, we are hanging on to our emotional experiences, allowing them to affect our daily lives from here on out. This doesn't just pose a problem to our emotional wellbeing, but also to our physical health. Our nervous system integrates with the rest of our body, influencing organ function. Through this connection, our emotional experiences can impact our physical health. We can see this short term when we experience a heightened burst of stress. Your heart starts racing, your palms sweat, and maybe you feel sick to your stomach. Your emotions impacted your body. 

With CST, we have found that through this neurological connection, we store these negative emotional experiences in our body as different restrictions, particularly in the fascia. Using an advanced CST technique called SomatoEmotional Release, we can release the emotional experience from the body and dissolve the negative impact it had on the nervous system. With this approach, CST can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. The bottomline is that this form of CST creates a happier & healthier you.

Some of you may be a little skeptical about all of this, especially the mental/emotional connection. When I first heard about CST in medical school, I was skeptical as well. It sounded way too out there for my rational mind. But I had made a promise to myself to be openminded and at least try all these different therapies so I could be a more informed doctor. So, I gave it a shot. I had been experiencing some intense SI joint pain after an injury and after the first treatment, I noticed some huge improvements. Within 5 treatments, my pain was 99% better. But more than that, for the first time in my life, I experienced cycles without menstrual cramps. It was fantastic! When a friend who was learning CST asked to practice on me, I happily volunteered even though I didn't have physical complaints. But these sessions were completely different. I found myself experiencing intense emotions and bouts of crying during the sessions. I was a little scared of what was happening, but outside the sessions, I noticed I wasn't as anxious. I felt more at peace and happier. I realized that I had resolved some longterm grief. Before, I would have thought the only way to resolve that grief was through counseling and talk therapy. But CST helped me in more ways that I could have ever imagined. So I signed up for some intensive CST training so I could bring this medicine to my patients. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a CST session?

CST sessions range from 30-60 minutes. Generally, a first session will be 60 minutes long and follow up sessions will be 30-45 minutes long. But this varies by practitioner and the progress of your treatment.

How many sessions will I need?

It depends on what you're coming in for. For physical complaints, people generally notice improvements right away and some people may resolve their physical complaint in 1-3 sessions. For mental & emotional treatment, the number of sessions is more varied. You may notice changes after a few treatments, but you may need 10 or more treatments to resolve the issue. For the most part, the number of treatments largely depends on you and your therapeutic relationship with your practitioner. If you aren't receptive to the treatment or you don't have a trusting relationship with your practitioner, it may take longer to get results. Basically, you need to be able to fully relax with your practitioner and embrace the experience to get the best results.

Will I have to disrobe for the treatment?

No. All your clothes stay on. I recommend wearing comfy athletic clothes. Treatment will take place on a massage table. You will lay face up, possibly with a blanket covering you. The practitioner will gently place their hands on various parts of your body, head, and face over the blanket of your clothes. If you require a sacral release, the practitioner may place one hand under your bottom, but that is the most awkward that a hand placement will get.

What does a release feel like?

You may have different experiences for different releases. It is common to feel a sense of heat and a tingling sensation in the area of release. In your cranial bones you may experience a sense of decreased pressure. You may experience a subtle rushing sensation followed by a lack of tension in that area. Sometimes, you may experience memories, images, sounds, or smells during a release. For SomatoEmotional Releases, you will generally re-experience emotions or memories around the emotional trauma. Crying is very normal during a SomatoEmotional Release. Once the release is complete, however, people generally experience a sense of calm or peace that they haven't known before. 

During releases, you can sometimes feel like you are not in control of your body of emotions. This can feel frightening, but it is a normal part of the process. It is best to trust your body and trust the process. Stay present and engaged with what you're experiencing and just know that your body is actively releasing it, so it will pass.

Is CST just for adults?

No. CST is safe and incredibly effective for babies, infants, toddlers, and children. Children are often much more receptive to CST compared to adults since their nervous system is not as impacted. CST can be helpful to newborns to decrease the physical trauma of exiting the birth canal or other physical trauma experienced during birth. It can also be great for children with ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities or other behavioral issues. 

What does science say about CST?

CST is getting more and more attention in the scientific community. While it is hard to research since the results of CST have a lot to do with the therapeutic relationship between the patient and practitioner, there have been several positive studies of CST. It has been shown to positively affect the nervous system as shown by heart rate variability. It also may be more effective than massage at managing low back pain. It may reduce symptoms of migraines and improve neck pain according to research. 

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24861836
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27347698
  • http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2595730
  • http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2531571


I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.