Craniosacral Therapy and food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity – an update – by medical herbalist Lyn Blythe

I write this update as a Medical Herbalist and Physiotherapist with experience of food allergy and intolerance. As I am not a practitioner of Craniosacral Therapy (CST), my aim was to research CST and attempt to provide an objective update of it’s potential role in food intolerance related symptoms.

Foodsmatter has a previous article (dated 2003) on CST by Tom Greenfield which can be found here.  So, what is CST? Can it help? If so, who can it help? Is there any trustworthy evidence? Has anything changed since the last Foodsmatter article? These were the questions I set out to answer.

What is CST?

The Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA) website describes CST as “a gentle way of working with the body using light touch”.  The website goes on to describe how, after taking an initial written case history, a CST practitioner “makes light contact with your head, the base of your spine, and other areas, encouraging your body to relax…..” and “…. may focus on areas other than where your symptoms occur”.  This is seen as a way of then allowing the body to begin to heal itself. The Association also highlights that CST should be used alongside orthodox treatment by a doctor.

Who can CST help?

The CSTA believes the therapy to be of benefit to people with either recent or long-standing physical problems, such as a bad back or headaches, but also for emotional problems, or merely as support during a busy life. As the therapy is described as gentle and non-invasive, it is said to be appropriate for all age groups, including babies.

Is there evidence to support the use of CST?

A browse of the 'Research' area of the CSTA website revealed a number of studies supporting the use of CST for a variety of symptoms. This did not surprise me. However, what I did find surprising is that the studies detailed also included some where the researchers had concluded CST had little or no effect. At first glance, this would appear to be a truly negative discovery – a therapy’s own Association presenting such findings. However, I actually view this more as 'the cup half full'. Assuming that those entering the information onto the website have actually read the studies, I find it comforting that the Association provides findings both for and against their therapy.

A search for studies on CST on more orthodox medical websites revealed few results. It may be worth bearing in mind at this point that an apparent lack of evidence for a therapy may be due to a lack of research rather than a lack of effect. Furthermore, a review article by Roberge and Roberge (2009), cited some possible reasons why, in their view, various osteopathic manipulation techniques appear to be underutilised in an orthodox setting. Those interested can access the article via the link below.

Browsing for information on CST using Google Scholar revealed several studies disputing the proposal that significant movement occurs at suture lines of the cranium as suggested by practitioners of CST. Moreover, it was concluded, that even if slight movement was possible at suture lines, this movement was unlikely to be linked to health or symptoms, although one study conceded it may be possible for another mechanism to be operating, which may account for any possible benefits (Hartman, 2002; Downey, 2006). However, in contrast to this, some studies found CST to be beneficial, for example, for urinary symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis and fibromyalgia symptoms. The latter study even found a longer-term benefit, one year post-therapy (Raviv, 2009; Castro-Sanchez, 2011).

In Conclusion

So, what are we, as potential consumers of CST, to conclude? I found no evidence of any adverse effects of CST. My own conclusion is that, whether or not actual movement occurs as proposed by CST practitioners, other factors are likely to be occurring. I would suggest that the patient is, at the very least, likely to benefit from the relaxation afforded by the therapy and therapist, with the associated benefits of this, such as reduced muscle spasm, possibly improved circulation to an area and, consequently, reduced pain and possibly tissue healing. Clearly the 'therapeutic relationship' and placebo effects will also be having an effect, both of which have been studied extensively. It may be prudent to mention that these are equally apparent and potentially valuable in orthodox medicine. I would also tentatively concede there may be 'other mechanisms' at work too, as concluded by Downey, et al (2006). I can see no harm in trying the technique, however, I do not see CST as an alternative to attempting to find a trigger or cause of symptoms, but it may prove a worthwhile adjunct.

Lyn Blythe BSc(Hons) MNIMH MCPP MCSP
Medical Herbalist and Physiotherapist



Castro-Sanchez, A.M., Mataran-Penarrocha, G.A., Sanchez-Labraca, N., Quesada-Rubio, J.M., Granero-Molina, J., Moreeno-Lorenzo, C. (2011). A randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of Craniosacral Therapy on pain and heart rate variability in fibromyalgia patients. Clin Rehabil 25 (1): 25-35

Downey, P.A., Barbano, T., Kapur-Wadhwa, R., Sciote, J,J., Siegel, M.I., Mooney, M.P. (2006). Craniosacral Therapy: the effects of cranial manipulation on intracranial pressure and cranial bone movement. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 36 (11): 846-853

Hartman, S.E., Norton, J.M. (2002). Craniosacral Therapy is not medicine. Physical Therapy 82 (11): 1146-1147

Raviv, G., Shefi, S., Nizani, D., Achiron, A. (2009). Effect of Craniosacral Therapy on lower urinary tract signs and symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 15 (2): 72-75

Roberge, R.J., Roberge, M.R. (2009). Overcoming barriers to the use of osteopathic manipulation techniques in the emergency department. WestJEM 10 (3): 184-189 [online]. [Accessed 22ndNovember, 2013]


December 2013

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