• Megan Cottrell

Is Craniosacral Therapy Safe? Are There Any Risks or Side Effects to Craniosacral Therapy?



If you’ve never experienced the gentleness of craniosacral therapy and just heard the name, you might wonder if it could be harmful or not safe, especially for certain vulnerable populations. Today, we’re going to explain gentle effectiveness of craniosacral therapy, why it can be used to treat so many people, even those who struggle with other therapies, and what specific situations shouldn’t be treated by craniosacral therapy.


If you've been curious about any potential risks, side effects or dangers to craniosacral therapy, read on. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how safe craniosacral is throughout the lifespan and how few contraindications exist for this extremely effective therapy.


Five Grams of Pressure: The Weight of a Nickel


When some folks hear the word “craniosacral,” they imagine something quite intense: the bones in their skull or spine being roughly manipulated. In reality, craniosacral therapy couldn’t be more different. Craniosacral is an extremely gentle on-the-body therapy using just five grams of pressure (the weight of a nickel) directly on the body’s tissues — not just the head or the sacrum — to better align the body and help the nervous system function more optimally. For a more complete explanation, please read our posts such as What Is Craniosacral Therapy and Does Craniosacral Therapy Really Work?


Because craniosacral is so gentle, it can be used across the lifespan. Some of our most frequent clients are just days or weeks old! Patients who come in expecting something more like chiropractic are often surprised at the slower-paced, more intuitive treatment of craniosacral therapy. After taking your medical history and listening to your concerns, the therapist holds or touches different parts of your body, such as your head, neck, ankles, knees or lower spine to “listen” for the flow of your cerebral spinal fluid, noting restrictions and applying this gentle pressure until they feel a therapeutic pulse, indicating a release in the tissue.


We often see clients with chronic pain who struggle with other more intensive therapies like chiropractic, massage or physical therapy. We love all of those modalities and support them, but for some of our clients, they can be too rough. For someone in constant, intense pain or who is experiencing severe mobility limitations, craniosacral can provide relief without requiring a lot of movement or deep pressure on the tissues, gently increasing and improving their mobility so that other treatment options can become bearable. Craniosacral therapy also supports better outcomes in other therapies, such as physical therapy and chiropractic. Talk to your craniosacral therapist about how to schedule craniosacral in relation to other therapies in order to get the best results.


Craniosacral Therapy Contraindications: Who Should Not Receive Craniosacral Therapy


Craniosacral therapy is meant to treat people in a medically stable condition. So, anything that you should be in the emergency room for is not a condition we treat. Many websites list contraindications for craniosacral therapy as very serious acute conditions such as acute stroke, acute cerebral hemorrhage, aneurysm, or any acute cerebral vascular condition with an active bleed.


If you have suffered from one of these conditions and have been released from the hospital in stable condition, we would welcome seeing you in the office and probably have a lot to offer you in terms of recovery. But we are not meant to be an emergent treatment for any of these conditions and would refer anyone with those conditions to the nearest emergency room or medical professional. In the same way, although we can help musculoskeletal alignment, you should not come to us first with your broken arm, looking for bone setting and a cast! These things seem like they should go without saying, but you just never know!


That being said, most people, regardless of age or condition, are safe to receive craniosacral therapy. There is one condition that we consider contraindicated for craniosacral therapy, and that is a leak of the cerebrospinal fluid.


A cerebrospinal fluid leak can happen after a head injury, surgery or after a lumbar puncture for spinal anesthesia like an epidural. Because a tear in the dura is allowing cerebrospinal fluid to leak out, the central nervous system is experiencing low-pressure, which can cause painful symptoms. While they often resolve on their own, a cerebrospinal fluid leak often causes an extreme pressure headache or other neurological symptoms such as tinnitus.


Because craniosacral therapy works on the cerebrospinal fluid, we do not work on people experiencing an active cerebrospinal fluid leak until the leak has fully resolved. During a cerebrospinal fluid leak, the body is working to repair the tear in the dura so that cerebrospinal fluid can return to normal levels and symptoms resolve. Although craniosacral is very gentle, we would not want to increase any outflow of cerebrospinal fluid or interfere with the body’s healing process. We would encourage clients to seek treatment, such as an epidural blood patch or repair by a qualified medical professional. After your leak has resolved, craniosacral therapy can be a good support to your recovering neurological system and help with any restrictions in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid that may have developed as a result of the leak.


Craniosacral: Safe, Effective, Gentle


We hope this has helped you understand how safe and gentle craniosacral therapy is. There is no reason to fear getting craniosacral therapy. Our clients often feel a state of relaxation and bliss that they have never felt before! We hope to see you in our office soon to experience the gentle but powerful modality of craniosacral therapy and see how it can help you. Book an appointment today!

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