“Scalped” (Craniosacral therapy)

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My only chat with a craniosacral therapist took place a year ago at the Quad Cities Paranormal and Psychic Expo. I asked him how it worked and was told, “It has to do with the cerebral spinal fluid, which is what houses all of the nerves. Craniosacral therapy bathes and nourishes and protects this fluid, which is in the cranium and goes all the way to the sacrum. There’s a rhythm that’s involved in the expansion and contraction of the craniosacral system. The idea is to make sure the system is able to expand and contract without any restrictions.”

I felt just fine that day, so I opted against paying $65 for a 20-minte scalp massage. Had I gone ahead with it, I would have been treated by a therapy that purports to manipulate noggin bones and the base of the spine for wide-ranging health benefits. The basics are that spinal fluid pulsates with a craniosacral rhythm, but that this flow can become blocked. However, practitioners such as the one I encountered say cranial bones move sufficiently to allow a therapist to feel this pulsation and give gentle massages that enable the flow to resume. With this, good health returns. Craniosacral therapy advertises itself as being able to achieve substantial health benefits with miniscule invasiveness and complete safety. Two-thirds of these claims are almost always accurate. It’s the one centering on health benefits that lacks substantiation.

For starters, craniosacral therapy makes no sense from an anatomy and physiology standpoint. The skull lacks moveable parts and the eight cranium bones don’t even separate to relieve the pressure from dangerous swelling so they sure won’t budge for a therapist’s oscillating fingertips. This, even though that is touted as the central feature of the treatment. It would be like a paying for a tune-up when the mechanic is unable to replace the spark plugs. Besides, the skull moving in multiple directions is something medics should be treating, not causing. Secondly, the only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid comes from the cardiovascular system. This is crucial because craniosacral therapists deny that the rhythm is caused by blood pressure. Rather, they say the brain makes rhythmic movements and that this is the flow they are feeling.

Another huge problem with the field is the lack of instruments, measurements, and verifiable data. I had an emergency room trip last week in which medical personnel tested my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, plus gave me an X-ray. By contrast, the craniosacral rhythm that proponents consider the key to health is determined by the therapist’s hands. Any needed changes to this rhythm are likewise completely reliant on the practitioner’s palms and fingers. The crucial feature of this field is craniosacral rhythm, yet proponents offer no way to detect, measure, or control it. Since no instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, there exists no reliable way to distinguish healthy flow from the impeded variety.

Likewise, how to approach treatment and gauge success is determined exclusively by the practitioner. With there being no tests, instruments, or valid anatomy & biology involved, 10 different craniosacral therapists will have 10 different ways of analyzing and treating a patient. There are also broad claims about what symptoms can be alleviated by craniosacral therapy, with the more brazen claiming that ANY malady can be fixed.

While craniosacral treatments lack therapeutic value, they are usually innocuous. But it can have indirect deleterious effect, such as when children with cerebral palsy are given false hope that it will make them better. The one significant danger is if a serious condition is treated with craniosacral therapy instead of genuine medicine, and two deaths have resulted from this. One victim was an epileptic who was treated with cranial therapy and was told to stop taking seizure medication; the other was a 2-day-old who was given craniosacral therapy for a high fever, which is a life-threatening condition for a newborn.

When I asked the craniosacral therapist last year, “Is it for specific issues like a sore arm or for general health,” I was assured, “It works for everything.” This is perhaps the biggest giveaway that the field is bogus. All ailments are attacked with the same fingertip scalp massage. The epileptic and infant fever victims were given the same treatment that would be given to patients with cancer, carotid arteries, canker sores, and anxiety.

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