(Investigator 163, 2015 July)


The idea behind the craniosacral system is attributed to Dr. William G. Sutherland (1873-1954) who, as a former student of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917), the founder of osteopathy, developed his theory and technique of cranial osteopathy over a thirty year period. Dr. Sutherland presented a paper at a meeting of the American Osteopathic Association in 1932.

A small number of chiropractors also practice cranial manipulative therapy although they attribute Nephi Cottam, D.C., with the discovery and development of the technique in the 1920s.

In the 1970s, Dr. John E. Upledger, D.O., F.A.A.O., and a team of researchers at Michigan State University's Department of Biomechanics, set about establishing a scientific basis for a craniosacral system. They showed that the system could be used to evaluate and treat a number of health problems such as migraines, toothache, physical and psychological shock and neurological disturbances.


The theory revolves around the perception of the cranial rhythmic impulse, involving the circulation of the cerebral spinal fluid within the brain's central nervous system. It is believed that the brain expands and contracts as a means of transporting cerebralspinal fluid throughout the brain and spine — a pumping action providing nutrients to keep them healthy.


A practitioner will begin a treatment by placing his hands lightly on the patient's head or under the sacrum to feel the cranial rhythm. This is considered to be at the rate of twelve cycles per minute in a healthy individual. If it is found to be low in amplitude or functioning eccentrically, it is corrected by a gentle, non-invasive, hands-on manipulation. Sometimes it is combined with neck or spine manipulation to help relieve stiffness in the neck, headaches and stress-related illnesses.

"Unwinding" is another technique employed, whereby the patient is physically supported while at the same time the practitioner maintains contact with the craniosacral rhythm.

Craniosacral therapy is used by many healthcare professionals including acupuncturists, chiropractors, dentists, osteopaths, occupational therapists and medical doctors.


Dr. Still asserted that God had revealed osteopathy to him and taught that the removal of structural defects enabled the body's "life-force" to create health. It is essentially a holistic science and art. There is some doubt about the basic tenet of craniosacral manipulation — the claim that CO practitioners are able to feel small cranial pulsations with their fingertips.

Nowhere in the entire field of scientific neurophysiology is there any evidence to support the concept of a fundamental cranial rhythm. The bones of the skull fuse during infancy and cannot actually be manipulated by hand.

Any success using this therapy can only be equated with that of faith healing.


Magner, G. 1995. . Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Raso, J. 1994. "Alternative" Health Care: A Comprehensive Guide. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Chiropractic: the victim's perspective

Sokolow, S.M. 1983. "An Open Letter on Dr. Viola Fryman's course." Elevator. 1983; 18(7):5.

Upledger, John E. (No date) The Therapeutic Value of the Craniosacral System. The Upledger Institute, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.