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  • Writer's pictureMegan Cottrell

Exploring the Benefits of Craniosacral Therapy for Concussion and Brain Injury Recovery

How craniosacral therapy can help people dealing with brain injury, head injury or concussion after sports, car accidents or falls

How Craniosacral Can Help If You Have a Brain Injury

We know that reading and concentrating can be difficult for people who have a brain injury. Below is a short summary of our longer article for folks experiencing a brain injury: 

Brain Injury Symptoms: 

  • Brain injuries can be debilitating and slow to get better. 

  • You may be experiencing pain, confusion, irritability and other physical symptoms. 

  • You may be frustrated with how long it’s taking to get better. 

A Brain Injury Makes It Difficult for the Brain to Clear Out Waste: 

  • Your brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a liquid called the cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid washes the brain and takes away waste products. 

  • When a brain injury happens, the flow of this fluid can be impaired.

  •  The buildup of waste products in the CSF is common after brain injuries and can keep the brain from functioning normally.

Craniosacral helps your body be able to begin to clear out the waste around your brain: 

  •  Craniosacral therapy is a gentle on-the-body therapy.

  •  The therapist feels for the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid and notes where it is blocked in the body. 

  • With gentle light pressure, they help the fluid flow better. 

  • That supports your brain’s ability to heal by helping the brain flush waste.. 

Craniosacral can help you relax and sleep better. 

  • Craniosacral therapy helps a person feel deeply calm. 

  • It helps your body come out of fight or flight and relax more deeply.

  •  This can help you sleep better and also help your brain heal. 

There is hope for brain injuries, and you are not alone.

  •  A brain injury may seem daunting and stressful, but there is hope. 

  • Our own lead therapist has experienced a brain injury, so she knows how hard a TBI can be and how much craniosacral can help. 

Please feel free to call or text us at (616) 433-3003 to talk about how craniosacral could help you recover from a brain injury. 

Our lead therapist and owner, Kelly O'Brien Pahman, has a special place in her heart anyone suffering from a traumatic brain injury  (TBI) or navigating life post-concussion. The confusion, irritability, lack of focus, chronic pain and overwhelm that often accompanies a TBI isn't just a list of symptoms to her  — they are memories of a very difficult time in her life, as well as what led her to first experience craniosacral therapy. If you are facing a brain injury for sports, after a car accident, fall, or other injury, read on to find out how craniosacral therapy can help your brain and body heal.

While in her 20s, Kelly was the victim of a carjacking which left her with a head injury. Even with rehab and medical treatment, she was left almost unable to function in everyday life. Everything was so much harder than it had been before. Pain was constant and ever-present. The simplest task could reduce her to tears or anger. Holding down a job or going to school was nearly impossible. 

During that time, Kelly met a craniosacral therapist who offered to start treating her. Although she had never heard of craniosacral therapy before, Kelly experienced profound relief from her treatments. She could sleep better. She could think more clearly. Her pain slowly began to lessen. Over time, craniosacral helped Kelly function again — get married, become a doula and eventually become a craniosacral therapist herself (and starting the flourishing Craniosacral Center of GR!).

Craniosacral therapy can be a powerful tool for recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussions. Craniosacral therapy can improve the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid, the fluid that washes the brain. It can get rid of waste products surrounding the brain. Craniosacral therapy shows potential to alleviate some of the challenges faced post-injury, such as headache, confusion, dizziness, irritability, attention problems and chronic pain. For professional athletes, young people who have experienced a concussion, car accident victim or anyone who has experienced brain injury, craniosacral can be enormously helpful.

If you are in the midst of a TBI or know someone who is, you may feel overwhelmed by the changes in your life. It may feel as if recovery is hard to imagine. But there is hope, and craniosacral can be part of a treatment plan to help the brain heal itself and allow the nervous to come back to equilibrium. Read on for more about craniosacral therapy and traumatic brain injury.

Signs and Symptoms of a Brain Injury or Concussion

If you have experienced a head injury recently, you may be wondering if it’s going to impact you in the long term. If you are in the midst of recovering from a TBI or a concussion, you may be overwhelmed by the symptoms and wondering when you’re going to get better. 

The symptoms of a brain injury don’t always appear right away. Sometimes they can be subtle and confusing. Here are some of the symptoms that a person with a traumatic brain injury may be experiencing: 

Physical Symptoms: headaches, chronic pain, nausea, drowsiness, loss of coordination, dizziness, vertigo, problems with speech, sleeps more than usual, or alternatively, has trouble sleeping, seizures

Cognitive Symptoms: confusion, trouble concentrating, memory problems

Emotional Symptoms: mood changes, mood swings, personality changes, easily frustrated or upset, aggressive or easily angered, depression

Sensory Symptoms: sensitivity to light or sound, blurred vision, problems with sense of smell, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth

Often, people don’t realize how long it can take the brain to heal. Symptoms can go on for quite awhile. These symptoms can be quite debilitating and make everyday life very difficult. Emotional changes or mood swings can also affect relationships with family and friends. 

For children, it can be harder to read the symptoms of a brain injury. Babies or toddlers may not be able to communicate how they feel. Parents should keep an eye out for: 

  • Changes in eating or nursing habits

  • Persistent crying or irritability

  • Changes in sleep habits

  • Seizures

  • Drowsiness

  • Sad Mood

How Craniosacral Can Help A Brain Injury, TBI, Concussion or Head Injury

Craniosacral therapy primarily treats the central nervous system, the body system most affected by a brain injury. 

The central nervous system — the brain and the spinal fluid — are protected by cerebrospinal fluid, a clear body fluid that surrounds them. This fluid serves two functions. First, it protects the CNS by cushioning it against impact. Second, it washes the brain and spinal cord and takes away waste products. 

Craniosacral therapy works directly with the cerebrospinal fluid. The cerebrospinal fluid is continually being pumped through the CNS at a rate of four to six waves per minute. This flow is crucial to our health, removing waste products that may impair our ability to function well.

The cerebrospinal fluid is held by three thin layers of tissues called the meninges. Sometimes tension develops within these meninges, like from a traumatic injury.  When a tension point develops, it changes the pressure and flow of the cerebrospinal fluid. It’s like trying to water your garden with a kink in the hose — it just isn’t flowing as it should. This can cause a build up of waste material in the cerebrospinal fluid and brain which then can influence how well all the parts of the nervous system work together. 

Scientists are just beginning to understand how this waste disposal system works, but they are recognizing that a build up of waste products in the cerebrospinal fluid is a symptom of a lot of diseases that deal with the brain, such as brain injuries, Alzheimers, Parkinsons and strokes. The buildup of waste can both be a symptom of a brain injury but also the cause of many of the symptoms, as the brain can’t function properly or heal when surrounded by waste. Craniosacral therapy supports the system that gets rid of that waste, allowing it to function more normally and, in turn, improving the function of the whole neurological system. 

Because CST works on the nervous system, craniosacral therapy is also amazing for reducing stress on the body and bringing a person to a deep state of calm. That kind of calm can be hard to come by for brain injury patients, who are experiencing painful symptoms, sensory overload or trouble sleeping. 

The body’s central nervous system regulates our stress state - whether we're relaxed or experiencing fight/flight/freeze due to stress. That, in turn, regulates the autonomic nervous system - all the ways our body responds automatically to stress, like increasing our heart rate, controlling our breathing, dilating our pupils, etc. Craniosacral therapy works to calm the central nervous system and activate the body’s calming systems, bringing us out of fight/flight/freeze, and allowing us to relax, think more clearly and engage in meaningful relationships. 

The Impact of Craniosacral Therapy on Professional Football Players with Post-Concussion Syndrome

As a society, we’re just beginning to acknowledge the effects of chronic concussion and head injuries in sports, particularly in football. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE is the syndrome that describes the impact of chronic head injuries which can cause brain damage similar to Alzheimers or other cognitive impairments. Studies have shown that professional football players are especially prone to these types of cognitive issues. 

The Upledger Craniosacral Therapy Institute has done some research and work with post-concussion patients. In a 2017 study, they treated 11 professional football players with post-concussion syndrome with craniosacral therapy and visceral manipulation. The players received treatment twice a day for five days. 

At the end of the study, the football players reported much lower levels of pain. They had significantly better range of motion in their upper spine. They also scored higher on tests for memory and reaction time. At the beginning of the treatment, patients reported that, on average, they were only sleeping for about 2 hours a night. After 5 days of treatment, that had doubled to four hours and continued to increase for 3 months after treatment. 

What’s incredible about this study is how much improvement the players saw in such a short time, even with years of head trauma. Brain injury patients are often frustrated by how long their symptoms persist, making everyday life so difficult. Craniosacral has the ability to help your body heal itself faster and decrease symptoms in the short and long term. 

For more on this great study, we highly recommend this great video with interview with the patients from the Upledger Institute: 

Craniosacral Therapy for Brain Injuries in Children and Young Athletes

Because of the increase in awareness of the impact of concussions, more parents are concerned about their children suffering a head injury in sports. If your child had a bump on the head, especially if they briefly lost consciousness, we would encourage you to seek treatment to support their developing brains. Of course, we would always recommend our clients to seek the help of a medical doctor or pediatrician as their primary resource. But as young children, school-age children and teens are recovering from a head injury, craniosacral can be a wonderful gentle support to them. 

Many parents ask us if their child needs to lie perfectly still for their entire treatment time. At Craniosacral Center of Grand Rapids, we are very experienced working with all ages, from babies through teens. For more on how we work with young people, take a look at our blog post Does My Child Have to Sit Absolutely Still for Craniosacral Therapy? No!

What Can I Expect from Craniosacral Therapy with a Head Injury?

If you’re looking to see a craniosacral therapist for a brain injury, Craniosacral Therapy Center of Grand Rapids is a great place to start. Our therapists are well-educated on the subject of brain injury and will be happy to support you on your healing journey. Here’s what you can expect from a craniosacral therapy session. 

We’ll start your treatment plan with an intake session, where we’ll take a medical history and ask you questions about whatever caused the current problem and also related incidents in the past. You wouldn’t believe how many of our clients have an old injury that still causes them problems, even from their childhood. We’ll ask about your hopes for treatment and the symptoms that cause you the most problems. 

Then you’ll lie fully-clothed on our treatment table. We have table warmers, blankets and pillows as you are comfortable. The therapist will often start at your feet or your head and apply very gentle pressure - less than the weight of a nickel - on part of the body. They’ll hold this position until they feel a release in the tissues. Some clients tell us they feel those releases as well, while some don’t. Then they’ll move to another area, following the tension in the body to slowly unwind any tightness. All of this is done with that same light pressure. If you feel anything during treatment or want your therapist to move to another area, all you have to do is ask! We are partners with you in understanding your body, but we firmly believe you are the expert. 

We’ll also give you a suggested treatment plan. Often, we recommend patients do intensive treatment upfront - coming once or twice a week for a few weeks, and then staggering their appointments from there as they find relief in their symptoms. We find this helps jump start the healing process, and from there, the body begins to speed up healing and sustain the gains that have been made. 

Between sessions, keep a record of your symptoms and let your therapist know how you are doing. Although you will likely feel some differences even with the first session, it takes more time for those changes to become regular. For example, the night of your first treatment, you might sleep more deeply than you have been and wake up more refreshed. Then the next night, a little more deeply than usual, but more restless than the night previous. Then you’re back to sleeping like you were before. It doesn’t mean the treatment didn’t work - it just means your body can’t sustain that level of relaxation yet. Coming back for another treatment will remind your body to develop that way of being as a habit and slowly heal itself. We often find that healing is like a snowball rolling downhill - it starts strong but small, but if treatment is consistent, builds upon itself quickly!

Craniosacral therapy is very gentle and safe. There are few side effects (other than feeling super calm!) and contraindications. Read more about safety and contraindications here, including why patients with an active cerebrospinal fluid leak should avoid craniosacral until it resolves. 

A craniosacral therapist can be a wonderful part of the team you build to  support your healing. Craniosacral therapy can often be like the natural “steroid shot” that helps you get the most out of the rest of your therapies. One provider we work with closely, who is also a client, calls CST the water that makes everything else run smoother and work better! We’re also happy to refer you to other providers who are experienced and knowledgeable to further your healing. 

How Can I Get Craniosacral Therapy for My Head Injury or Concussion?

We’d love to see you in our office to talk about how we can work together. Feel free to book an intake appointment online, or call or text us at (616) 433-3003 and we can help find an appointment that works for you. 

Don’t forget: there is hope for healing. We’re rooting for you, and we’ll be excited to celebrate with you when you achieve your goals for how you want to feel in your body. 



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