If you’ve ever had a migraine headache, you won’t soon forget it: visual disturbances, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, and blinding pain. For folks who experience migraines, it’s not a simple headache — it’s a debilitating condition that severely interrupts their daily life, limiting their ability to work and take care of their families.
As a practitioner, I’ve had many positive experiences treating migraine sufferers with craniosacral therapy. Recently, one of my clients asked if we would write an article about it. Her reason? It took her so long to find me, and she doesn’t want other people to have to suffer as long as she did! She had heard craniosacral therapy could provide relief, but didn’t know where she could get craniosacral in Grand Rapids or West Michigan.
Migraines are such a debilitating condition that they affect the whole family. And finding relief can affect the whole family too! So explore what works for you and keep going when you find what’s effective.
What is Craniosacral Therapy, and How Can It Help With Migraines?
Craniosacral therapy is a light touch, on-the-body therapy that’s incredibly gentle and incredibly effective. Craniosacral therapy works with the whole body by calming the central nervous system and improving the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that washes the brain and the nervous system.
There are many different causes of migraines, and scientists don’t completely understand them all. Triggers include lack of sleep, stress, hormones, weather, food sensitivities, medications and more. Craniosacral can help address the underlying causes for some migraine sufferers and support the body systems for other triggers.
We recently wrote a long blog post explaining the many different body systems that craniosacral therapy works on and why it can be effective for so many conditions, but, in short, craniosacral therapy works on three key systems in the body that can all have a role in migraines: the central nervous system, the musculoskeletal system and the cerebral spinal fluid.
The central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) obviously play a strong role in the experience of a migraine headache. For many migraine sufferers, just the beginning of a migraine (or even the thought of a migraine) can activate a cycle of pain and stress — stress causing the body to tighten or react in ways that cause pain, and then that pain causing more stress, leading the cycle to repeat. Craniosacral therapy works to calm the central nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us out of a state of fight, flight or freeze. and allowing us to relax on a deep level.
Many migraine sufferers have chronic body tension, particularly in the neck or shoulders, that can lead to the onset of a migraine. Craniosacral works to relax the musculoskeletal system and unwind patterns of tension. Unlike massage or chiropractic, which can be effective tools for migraines, craniosacral is incredibly gentle, using less than 5 grams of pressure. For this reason, craniosacral can be effective because it doesn’t prompt a stress or tightening response from the body, and can even be done while a person is experiencing a migraine, when their senses are heightened. Through craniosacral therapy, one of my migraine patients discovered that their tailbone was out of alignment, probably as a result of a skiing accident. By working on the sacrum and releasing the tension, we were able to resolve her migraines, which had been occurring as often as every two or three days (see more of her testimonial below).
In addition, craniosacral therapy works to improve the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that washes the central nervous system and clears waste from the brain. Scientists are just beginning to discover how the presence of certain substances in the cerebrospinal fluid can be an indicator of disease and how impaired waste removal can cause issues within the functioning of the nervous system. Craniosacral helps improve the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid by unlocking points of tension that keep it from doing its job. Once the fluid is able to flow as intended, the body can remove waste products and the central nervous system functions better. Recent studies have shown that migraine sufferers may have higher levels of sodium in their cerebrospinal fluid, which may indicate that their body is not clearing waste products effectively.
Many women struggle with migraines triggered by hormones. While craniosacral therapy does not work directly with hormones, supporting the body in general by improving the function of the central nervous system can help hormonal migraine sufferers by bringing more balance to the body in general.
Dr. Michael Healy, a physical therapist and a craniosacral therapist, shared how craniosacral can help hormone-related migraines.
“If we’re able to rebalance the craniosacral system, the patient may have some benefits with their pituitary gland, which is the master gland which controls our hormones. If there’s a structural dysfunction that is preventing the pituitary gland from working optimally, then, yes, we can change the structures that are around there, and it should be helpful.
What Does Research Say About Craniosacral Therapy and Migraines?
Some small studies have been done on the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy as a migraine treatment, and the results, although limited, have been extremely positive. Migraine sufferers who consistently got craniosacral therapy in one study showed that their migraines decreased and general well-being improved. Many of these patients also reported decreasing or discontinuing their migraine medication.
Another literature review published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders looked at studies that compared the results after getting craniosacral therapy or a sham treatment for chronic pain sufferers, including those with migraines. Those who received actual craniosacral therapy showed a reduction in pain intensity and disability, as well as a general improvement in well being, than those who received the sham treatment.
What My Clients Say About Craniosacral Therapy for Migraine Relief
What prompted me to write this article was actually my own clients experiencing significant relief from their migraines after receiving craniosacral therapy. As a person who formerly struggled with chronic pain, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to help other folks find relief from debilitating pain!
“A month or two ago, I tried to give craniosacral therapy a try to treat my chronic, horrific migraines. Kelly was able to identify an old injury of mine that I hadn’t given much thought to. In 2009, I had broken my tailbone skiing. While it was very painful at the time for a few months, I thought it had healed. It turns out, my tailbone had healed in the wrong position. Coincidentally, thinking back, this was the first time I remember getting headaches, but I never put two and two together. After Kelly found this injury and her craniosacral therapy treatment, my migraines have disappeared.
My chiropractor also evaluated me and determined this to be the cause of my migraines. He and Kelly have been healing my tailbone, and I have never progressed so quickly. This has been six years of chronic pain gone in a matter of weeks. Kelly has completely changed my life, and I will forever be grateful to her!”
Chiropractor Amy Kooyers also came to me for help with migraines she was getting during pregnancy. Here is her review.
“Kelly is a wonderful craniosacral therapist. She is skilled and has a lot of passion for helping the body. She has been a tremendous help to me throughout my pregnancy as I struggle with headaches. She has given me relief and has a lot of skills up her sleeve to aid in a healthy pregnancy and delivery.”
A few years back, I received a call from a client who was at work and got a migraine aura. She asked me if she could come in right away, and thankfully, I had an opening. I treated her with craniosacral therapy, and later, she called to say that our work stopped the migraine dead in its tracks! She had been prepared to turn off the lights and hide in bed for the rest of the day, suffering from pain, but instead, she was able to continue on with her day as normal!
So, if you’re struggling with migraines, I hope you will consider coming to see me. In our first session, we do an intake process where I take a thorough medical history and discuss your symptoms, which can give me clues to where to look in the body for relief. As I like to say, your body is a tattle tale, so once we start working on the body with CST’s gentle five grams of pressure, we can listen to what you’re body is telling us and find what needs attention.
Would love to see you in the office and include your testimonial about relief from CST in my next post! Book an appointment now.