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  • Writer's pictureMegan Cottrell

Healing Nerve Pain and Nerve Damage Through Craniosacral Therapy

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

how craniosacral therapy can help with nerve pain

If you’ve ever experienced nerve pain, you know it can be confusing, debilitating and extremely hard to treat. Neuritis, neuralgia, neuropathy, neuropathic pain, pinched nerve -— it goes by many names and has many variations - pain or numbness that may come and go or persist. Regardless of what you call it, those who experience it struggle to find real help.

That’s where our client Holly found herself after five years of consistent, debilitating levels of nerve pain, brought on by traumatic circumstances and a case of Epstein-Barr virus. This mom and high school choir teacher was taking high levels of pain medication just to function in her everyday life.

But lately, she’s found dramatic relief from pain and returning sensation in her body after just a few treatments with craniosacral therapist Kelly O’Brien Pahman.

“My pain is so much better. My fine motor abilities are better,” says Holly. “I have a feeling in two of my fingers that I haven’t had sensation for for five years! It's incredible how this has changed my life!”

If you or someone you love has experienced nerve pain, read on to learn how craniosacral can help this difficult-to-treat condition and provide relief from nerve related conditions.

Holly’s Story: Nerve Damage and Pain Caused By Immense Grief and Stress

Holly’s nerve pain began after the traumatic loss of her infant son followed by a miscarriage. Working in a high-stress job with long hours, Holly began to experience bouts of numbness and extreme pain.

“I had tingling and a loss of feeling from the waist down. From my elbows to my hands, where I did have feeling, it was either extremely painful or numb,” she says.

She saw doctor after doctor, but no one knew what was causing it or how to treat it. Eventually, she was tested for Epstein-Barr virus and doctors surmised that she had become infected during or after her traumatic loss, and the combination of the virus and emotional trauma had caused significant nerve damage. They diagnosed her with mononeuritis multiplex, a type of peripheral neuropathy with pain or numbness in multiple areas. The best they could do was offer her pain management — high doses of painkillers that she had to take round the clock. Doctors said that over time, the nerves would heal, but years went by without relief for Holly.

Eventually, Holly began seeing an energy healer, and during one of her sessions, she felt inspired to try craniosacral therapy. When she found Kelly at Craniosacral Center of Grand Rapids, Holly was also experiencing stomach issues related to stress, in addition to her nerve pain. She came to Kelly with the hope that craniosacral could reduce her stress level and potentially help with healing.

How Craniosacral Therapy Can Help Nerve Issues

Craniosacral therapy works on three main systems of the body, the central nervous system, the cerebrospinal fluid and the musculoskeletal system. All three of these systems can be at play when it comes to neuropathy or nerve pain.

Our body’s nervous system is made up of the Central Nervous system, the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, the neural network which extends feeling to every part of our body and communicates with the brain about pain and sensation. 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 parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us out of fight/flight/freeze, and allowing us to relax, think more clearly and engage in meaningful relationships.

If the central nervous system is not functioning properly or is in a chronic state of fight or flight, this stress can extend to the peripheral nervous system, sending back signals of pain or disrupting sensation entirely. Physical and emotional trauma can cause this intense stress state, leading to problems throughout the body.

The central nervous system is protected by cerebrospinal fluid, a clear body fluid that surrounds them. This fluid serves two functions - to protect the CNS by cushioning it against impact, and to wash the CNS and take 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 eight to twelve waves per minute. This flow is crucial to our health, removing waste products that may impair our ability to function well. After a serious illness, remnants of viruses or bacteria or white blood cells are often found in the cerebrospinal fluid, and tests for autoimmune diseases, like fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, often test the cerebrospinal fluid for proteins that may indicate an improper immune response.

Craniosacral therapy follows the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid throughout the body. By feeling the flutter of the cerebrospinal fluid in paired joints, the therapist can assess where there might be tension that is disrupting the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid and the central nervous system.

Craniosacral seeks to work with the body’s existing healing patterns, unhooking the tension within tissues, starting by working from where the therapist finds the body willing to release tension and continuing in the direction of ease, rather than trying to force the body into the desired pattern. By doing this work in the musculoskeletal system, craniosacral therapy then supports better flow of the cerebrospinal fluid as well as the function of the central nervous system.

Patterns of tension throughout the body, caused by stress or by physical conditions, can cause nerve pain or disrupt the neural pathways, leading to lack of sensation. By relieving tension, we can allow the nerves to heal.

Working with these three systems in combination through craniosacral therapy can bring profound changes for those suffering from nerve pain or numbness. By improving the function of the central nervous system and disrupting tension patterns throughout the body, the body can begin the work of healing itself, lowering pain and allowing sensation to return.

We describe craniosacral therapy as working with these three separate systems — the central nervous system, the cerebrospinal fluid and the musculoskeletal system — but in reality, all these systems are contained in one dynamic body where each system overlaps and influences each other. Attempting to explain it piece by piece misses the greater whole — the dynamic, interconnected body. And likewise, as human beings we are complex and mysterious. How our brain and body influence each other is a mysterious web, and nerve pain is one of those conditions that hints at the deeper connections we don’t always understand completely. That’s why Craniosacral can be such a powerful treatment — it embraces our deep interconnectedness and honors the body’s ability to heal itself when given a nudge in the right direction.

Healing for Holly: Lowering Pain, Returning Sensation

Once Holly found Kelly at Craniosacral Center of Grand Rapids, she began to feel changes almost immediately. At her next session, Holly told Kelly that she was getting feeling in her ring finger and pink again, something she hadn’t felt in almost five years! As a choir teacher, being able to feel those fingers made it much easier to play the piano for her classes and improved her ability to play.

Holly’s pain also started decreasing significantly. Previously, she was taking a large dose of painkillers every four hours, and at the end of that four hours, she was counting the minutes until her next dose. Now, she’s been taking one third of that dose twice a day, and sometimes she’ll forget to take the next dose. Because of the dramatic decrease in pain, Holly was able to get a letter of medical necessity from her doctor so that insurance would cover craniosacral therapy for her.

“I can now see that in the near future, between the work of my energy healer and Kelly, I will be able to stop the pain meds altogether. That is something I never thought would have been possible,” she says.

Because the painkillers always made her sleepy, Holly found herself drinking caffeinated soda all day to keep herself awake. Because she’s no longer taking such a high dose of medication, she’s stopped drinking soda and consequently lost 30 pounds.

In addition to feeling better physically, Holly says her mental state and ability to handle stress has improved dramatically.

“I am so much more calm. My job and responsibilities have not changed, but I am so much more calm and am not in "freak out mode" all the time like I used to be all the time,” she says.

“It's been very powerful and very cool,” says Holly. “I’m not an expert on how it works, but it seems to be very effective in a short amount of time. I’ve only seen Kelly a few times so far and a lot has happened. I’m excited to see what more we can do.”

At her most recent session, Holly told Kelly, “I’m a totally different person than the person who first came in here in August.”

Kelly says she has been honored to be a part of the healing journey for Holly and is amazed at the progress she’s made in such a short time.

“There’s something really sacred about being in a healing space with someone, especially someone who has suffered so much both physically and emotionally, and helping them find some relief,” says Kelly.

If you or someone you know deals with chronic nerve pain or numbness, consider giving craniosacral therapy a try. It’s easy to book your first appointment, and you can trust that you’ll be treated with respect and care as you experience this extremely gentle and extremely effective therapy.



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