(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on August 12, 2010.)
A system is a number of bodily organs acting together to perform one of the main bodily functions. Familiar systems are the circulatory system which pumps blood throughout the body bringing nutrients and removing waste products, and the digestive system which breaks down food into smaller usable units of energy. The respiratory system is responsible for proper gas exchange, primarily getting oxygen in and carbon dioxide out while the nervous system is responsible for communication throughout the body. Each of these systems must function well to achieve their specific purposes and also work together with other systems for the overall health of the individual.
One system not as well known as the others, but which in my experience has profound effects, is the craniosacral system. It includes the bones of the skull, the spinal column, and the end of the spine (the sacrum). Its soft connective tissues or membranes form a hydraulic system, a system operated by the resistance offered or pressure transmitted when a quantity of liquid is forced through a comparatively small orifice/opening or through a tube.
The craniosacral system is part of the nervous system and deals primarily with getting nutrition to the nervous tissue. The cerebro-spinal fluid is produced in the brain by a structure called the choroid plexus. This fluid is produced in a rhythmic fashion and is similar to blood in the circulatory system but is specific to the brain and spinal cord.
A craniosacral pulse can be detected at the head or other parts of the body at a rate of 6-12 cycles/minute. This is very different from the respiratory rate of 14-18 breaths/minute or the circulatory rate of 60-80 beats/minute.
Trauma to the head, neck, back or tailbone, illness, or emotional trauma can alter the craniosacral rhythm. Craniosacral therapy assists the body in optimizing the rhythm through a specific set of techniques using very light pressures, about 5 grams or the weight of a nickel, applied to specific parts of the head, trunk and sacrum. These techniques are designed to get better movement within the nervous system and a balanced flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
Craniosacral therapy can help people with head injuries, jaw problems (TMJ disorders), headaches, fibromyalgia, neck surgeries, and traumatic brain injury. It has also been used to treat neurological conditions, back pain, and arthritis.
Osteopathic physicians, physical therapists, doctors, dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and other licensed body workers with special training can do these treatments. Personally, I have found it to be an effective technique, very gentle and soothing to the patient and the practitioner as well. I have seen it applied to babies to correct birth trauma and have been told colic and recurrent ear infections can be easily treated with some of these techniques.
Some reading references include: Your Inner Physician and You by John Upledger, D.O. available through the Upledger Institute at (800) 233-5880 for $12.95 and Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil, MD
Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for over 30 years, specializing in Integrative Manual Therapy utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave, Suite 100, Alhambra, CA 91801. Call 626 576 0591 for a FREE Consultation, or visit yonemoto.com for more information.