What’s in a Name?


by Christopher Turkaly

Our names don’t say anything about who we are as individuals – nothing about our interests, our personality, or our values. To make an assumption about someone based upon their name would be the same as judging a book by its cover.

Yet for the type of bodywork in which I specialize, this seems to be the case. CranioSacral Therapy is a type of manual therapy in which I facilitate the patient’s body’s ability to self-heal.

Yet the name, CranioSacral Therapy, leads to much confusion and doesn’t explain anything about this amazing treatment that taps into and encourages the body’s natural healing processes.

CranioSacral Therapy is therapy for the CranioSacral System. Yet to most people, this has no significance. They hear the word “cranio” and think that CranioSacral Therapy is about massaging the head, when in fact it is so much more than that.

A better explanation of CranioSacral Therapy is that it is a type of manual therapy in which the therapist uses his/her hands to assess the patient’s soft tissues throughout the ENTIRE physical body. The focus is to locate restrictions which may be causing symptoms or dysfunction within ANY physiological system. The therapist uses light-touch techniques in the area of the restriction with the goal of facilitating the body’s self-correcting mechanisms.

CranioSacral Therapy was developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger, as a result of research, he completed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s while a professor in the medical school at Michigan State University.

Dr. Upledger named his modality CranioSacral Therapy and set out to teach these techniques to more than just physicians.

He named it CranioSacral Therapy because he believed that the CranioSacral system is a significant physiological system and should have its own unique classification, just like the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, digestive system, et al.

The CranioSacral System consists of the:

-tissues covering the brain and spinal cord,

-cavities created by the tissues,

-bones connected to these tissues (i.e.., head, spine, tailbone),

-fluid within these tissues,

-and connective tissue that attaches to any of the above and weaves itself throughout the body all the way to the skin.

For some reason when anyone learns about the CranioSacral System all they focus on is the spinal fluid and the cranium. They tend to think that CranioSacral Therapy is about regulating the fluid around the brain or about “opening” the bones of the head.

CranioSacral Therapy is manual therapy. Manual therapy is any type of hands-on technique to improve movement in joints, muscles, and connective tissues. And remember that it can be is performed anywhere on the body, not just the head!

An important part of the CranioSacral System is the connective tissue.
The connective tissue is a 3-dimensional web throughout the body, from deep to superficial. It is continuous from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. It surrounds muscles, organs, bones, nerves, blood vessels, et al.

An easy way to visualize the CranioSacral System and understand its significance is to imagine a balloon.

The balloon would be the covering. Inside is the fluid, brain and spinal cord. Outside is the head, spine, tailbone, and the connective tissue.

Due to its location deep inside the body, the CranioSacral System is intimately related to the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, endocrine system, respiratory system, vascular system, and lymphatic system.

Any type of restriction within any of these systems can cause the CranioSacral System to be misshapen.

Connective tissue will transmit this tension pattern from its origin through the connective tissue to the covering of the brain and spinal cord.

This, in turn, will then affect the functioning of the brain and spinal cord and may lead to dysfunction anywhere throughout the body.

Since the connective tissue is an important part of the CranioSacral System, the connective tissue is what the therapist focuses on in a treatment session.

Because of their extensive training, a CranioSacral therapist is able to:

-palpate the connective tissue,

-perceive its relationship to physical structures, such as muscles, bones, nerves, organs, and

-note the exact location of restrictions – from superficial to deep inside the body.

During a treatment, the therapist locates the source of symptoms in order to treat the underlying cause. The body always strives for homeostasis, which is a relatively stable balance. Whatever happens to our bodies and in our daily lives, the body works hard to stay in this equilibrium.

After an injury, the body may detour resources to maintain stability. Eventually, the body may not be able to deal with the imbalance created by the injury and this can lead to a pain cycle and even chronic pain.

This is called compensation because the body is having to work around not having all available resources. A CranioSacral Therapist is trained to assist the body in self-correcting this compensation and achieving harmony.

Also, the therapist assists the nervous system in achieving a balanced state.
Sometimes after an injury has occurred and healed, a specific spinal cord segment can continue sending pain signals. A CranioSacral Therapist is trained to locate and treat these hyper-irritable segments.

Furthermore, the therapist treats form and function.
A lot of CranioSacral Therapy techniques/protocols focus on treating the physical structure as well as its physiological process in order to ensure that the body returns to optimal performance.

CranioSacral Therapy is the name of a manual therapy technique that utilizes the connective tissue to affect changes in the structure and function of the nervous system, muscular system, endocrine system, lymphatic system, and vascular system.

To categorize it by its name would be pointless when it is so much more than working with the head (Cranium) or tailbone (Sacrum). It is an all over treatment modality that can be used to treat a variety of health conditions.

Christopher Turkaly, MEd, LMT, CST-T is an advanced CranioSacral Therapist who currently works for Beaumont Health Integrative Medicine Department and leads a CranioSacral Therapy study group in Oakland County. He enjoys helping others learn this powerful and simple technique that improve a variety of conditions.


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