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Craniosacral Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury: Is This Controversial Therapy Worth It?

Woman trying craniosacral therapy for traumatic brain injury

Craniosacral therapy (CST) for traumatic brain injury has the potential to relieve many side effects of TBI. But does it work?

CST has almost as many supporters as it does critics. Since it is such a controversial treatment, this article will examine both sides of the debate in order to help people come to an informed decision.

What is Craniosacral Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury?

Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, noninvasive manual therapy that claims to “release restrictions in the craniosacral system to improve the functioning of the central nervous system.” It’s often used as a natural remedy for post-concussion syndrome.

The craniosacral system (CSS) consists of meninges, bones, and spinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The idea behind craniosacral therapy is to manipulate the CSS and affect the circulation of spinal fluid.

Practitioners do this by lightly pressing on joints in the skull, neck, and spine. The pressure applied does not exceed five grams.

Craniosacral therapy was invented in the 1970s by John Upledger, a doctor of osteopathy. It has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including TBI.

Evidence for Craniosacral Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury

woman getting craniosacral massage

Scientific studies either for or against craniosacral therapy are sparse. However, research conducted on a group of ex-NFL players with severe post-concussive symptoms showed some promise.

After ten two-hour CST sessions, the participants all experienced significant improvements in their sleep, memory, range-of-motion, and cognition.

It should be noted though that the participants were also receiving other types of neck therapy during the study. Therefore, it’s unclear how many benefits CST itself provided.

In a separate, placebo-controlled study conducted on fibromyalgia patients, participants showed a radical improvement in pain symptoms after 20 weeks of sessions. Those who were receiving a sham treatment did not display as many benefits.

While the participants in that study did not have a TBI, they share many symptoms in common with brain injury patients, such as neuropathy and autonomic dysfunction. This means craniosacral therapy could help TBI survivors with those symptoms as well.

Arguments Against Craniosacral Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury

Critics of craniosacral therapy have many concerns about the practice. One is the lack of positive evidence for the therapy. While there certainly are some studies that show improvements, there are others that claim the evidence is insufficient.

The main objection to craniosacral therapy, however, is that the foundational assumption of CST is false: a person cannot move the bones of the skull enough to affect the circulation of spinal fluid.

When researchers attempted to use craniosacral therapy on rabbits, no changes in spinal fluid pressure or flow could be measured. This fact supports the idea that CSF flow cannot be adjusted by movement.

On the other hand, neuroscientists have discovered that CSF is regulated by respiration. So, it’s possible that the breathing techniques used during a craniosacral therapy session affect spinal fluid. However, more studies are needed to establish that fact.

Finally, data suggests that CST therapists cannot produce a reliable diagnosis of a patient, even though practitioners claim they can. This makes it suspect as a legitimate science.

Is Craniosacral Therapy for TBI Worth It?

Because there is not yet a solid, scientific basis for the mechanics of craniosacral therapy, most doctors refrain from wholeheartedly recommending it. That’s also the reason most insurances do not cover it.

Still, many people do experience therapeutic benefits from CST. While it can’t replace traditional treatment, it could work as a supplemental therapy to relieve headaches that won’t disappear.

As long as you do not use CST to diagnose any issues you have, there is no harm in trying it. The therapy is extremely gentle, so you don’t have to worry about injury. At the very least, you will get a relaxing massage out of it.

We hope these facts about craniosacral therapy for traumatic brain injury help you find the best treatments for your TBI symptoms.

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