History of Craniosacral Therapy


Osteopathic Beginnings

Craniosacral therapy has its origins in the field of osteopathy.

Osteopathy was developed by Andrew Taylor Still, DO. During the Civil War he was first trained as a “hospital steward.” By the time the war was over he was a fully trained surgeon. Arriving back home after the war, he discovered that his children had passed away in a meningitis epidemic. As Still sought to derive meaning from his personal tragedy, he discovered that most of the people who died had been treated by the doctors with very toxic medication. He also discovered that in the counties where there were no doctors and toxic medications, the people did not die. He came to believe that the human body had a healing capacity of its own, and that if there were no “restrictions” within the body, it would usually heal itself. Still went on to found the first school of osteopathy, which still exists today in Missouri. He sought to teach his students how to remove restrictions in the body.

One of Still's early students, William Garner Sutherland, DO, went on to study in great detail how to release restrictions in the human skull. His work became known as Cranial Osteopathy. Sutherland's work came at a time when the American Medical Association used the money of some of America’s great tycoons to lobby the government to outlaw both Osteopathy and Chiropractic, which had grown up in the same period of time. Both professions spent much of the twentieth century reestablishing their right to practice under the law.

From its beginnings, osteopathy, offered an alternative to traditional medicine. Osteopathic schools sprung up around the world. Today, osteopathic education in America - while keeping its roots - follows a more mainstream approach, allowing osteopaths to practice side by side with many medical specialties.


John Upledger

Upledger’s Theory of How Craniosacral Motion Works

In the mid-1970’s, an osteopath, named John Upledger, was assisting in a surgery to remove a growth from the membrane wrapping the spinal cord. His task was to “steady the cord” so that there would be no movement, which could cause a slip of the surgeon’s blade in this delicate area. Upledger became aware of a rhythmic wave of fluid motion that would sweep up and down within the membranes. He went on to study this motion in great detail.

Upledger’s explanation for the wave motion, is one of several theories about the origins of the waves of motion felt in the human body and around the central nervous system. It focuses on a hydraulic motion created by the filling and emptying of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord within the membranes. It also describes the motions of the bones of the skull as a result of the filling and emptying.

The motions of the skull and membranes are spread throughout the entire body via a tissue called “fascia.” Fascia is also known as “connective tissue” and is present throughout the entire body, from the walls of individual cells, to wrappings around groups of cells, to the tendons and ligaments which hold us together, much like the rigging on a sailboat allows the sail to capture the wind and to move. Without the lines on a sailboat, the sail would be useless. This form of structure is known as tensegrity.

At a microscopic level, fascia is exquisitely beautiful. Its fibers are actually tubules, with droplets of fluid traveling through them. These fibers are in constant motion, coming together, moving apart, creating and recreating new designs. It is through this fluid matrix that there is an exchange of information, an exchange of nutrients and waste…all of which lead to the health of the body.

When there is an injury to the body, the healing process can lead to “restriction” within the fascia. An easy to understand model is scar tissue. While fascia has no one pattern of cells, and shapes and forms are constantly dancing, scar tissue is, on the other hand, static, immobile, with all the fibers aligned and “stuck.”

Restriction can happen for many reasons, not just an overt injury. Restriction can occur with disease processes, inflammatory processes, or chronic conditions, or with immobility created by habitual patterns of posture, or habitual positioning created by bracing, such as orthodontia. It can occur as a result of emotional trauma. With restriction in the fascia, the original problem is compounded, exacerbated. Without the normal function of the fascia, and the normal circulation in the tissue, healing is difficult, or sometimes impossible.

It was this idea, of restriction, that started Andrew Taylor Still on the path that led to osteopathy. It was the concept of the alteration of the fluid/wavemotion from the cranium to the sacrum, created by these restrictions, that caused John Upledger to name the work of releasing restrictions “Craniosacral Therapy.”


The Different Fields of Craniosacral Therapy

In the late 1970’s, Upledger brought Craniosacral Therapy (CST) out from the field of Osteopathy, and began to teach it to physical therapists. Over the last thirty-plus years, the Upledger Institute has taught his “biomechanical” approach to CST to many professionals around the country and around the world. Other ideas blossomed into other schools of thought around CST. William Sutherland’s ideas became the “biodynamic” approach; another approach is a “visionary” approach, developed by Hugh Milne, DO, in California.

My work is based primarily in the Upledger’s biomechanical approach, however I am blending this with other approaches over time, as I explore this amazing field.