Cranio-Sacral Massage Therapy – Legitimate Therapy or Quackery?

By Jennifer Shaw, Austin Massage Therapist and Guest Blogger

Cranio-sacral therapy (CST) was initiated by osteopath, Dr. William Sutherland, in the early 1900’s and further developed by Dr. John Upledger and others beginning in the 1970s. Essentially, the cranio-sacral therapist senses the pulse of the cerebro-spinal fluid and looks for any subtle restrictions of its flow or rhythmic pulse and resulting restrictions in the fascia and bones of the cranio-sacral system . This therapy is often used to treat everything from migraines to immune disorders.

While researching the history, purpose and success of cranio-sacral therapy for this article across many different sources – from YouTube to Wikipedia to The Upledger Institute – I noticed a rhythm of another kind in the testimonials about this manual therapy. One common argument centering around one common question popped up more than any other – how legit is cranio-sacral therapy really?

From the Comment Box

There are, of course, glowing reviews of the technique on Upledger’s testimonial web page and vehement criticism on, but across the board on industry-distant sources like YouTube, the argument raged.

On Upledger’s web site, an occupational therapist raves, “It was incredibly special to work with Mom and baby today. Mom already had a lovely connection with baby and they both let us right in. We were able to help create more room for baby, who until then was always sitting on Mom’s left side. As her tissue opened and the uterus let go of some tension, the baby moved to the right side and stretched out. Mom had profound releases in her occiput and softening in her pelvis. This was her first CST session and I think we turned her into a “junkie!” Mom and baby both felt connected, relaxed and satisfied and I felt blessed and lucky to be part of this experience.”

One YouTube reviewer says, “I have a friend who is a certified massage therapist that took a course in CST and practices the technique at an exclusive day spa. I know it sounds crazy, but she can find which areas of your body are in pain without even telling her-just by touch. Her clients say it helps. I know she has relieved some of my own chronic pain using it…”

And right next to it, another reviewer says, “Being objective, the American School of Osteopathy has demanded that CST be struck off the curriculum. The whole basis of CST is false…There is no proven intra-related reliability and the therapy is only as good as the placebo effect…” (Ironically, I had to spell check this reviewer’s post three times to get all the errors cleared away for this article.) says, “I certainly agree! In fact, I believe that most practitioners of cranio-sacral therapy have such poor judgment that they should be de-licensed.” Ouch!

There is Only One Way to Know…Lay Hands On

The best way to understand cranio-sacral work is to try it, of course, as a receiver or as a student. Even the most skeptical and clinical of massage therapists will admit that a seasoned LMT’s hands will feel things the average Joe’s wouldn’t feel in the body of a new massage client. Whether it be a trigger point, scar tissue, a taut band or a cranio-sacral pulse – the best way to find out is through hands-on work and study.

We’d love to hear about your experience with cranio-sacral therapy! Have you had a breakthrough session? What do you think about it? Write some comments of your own in the box below.