Osteopathy vs Cranio-Sacral Therapy

Originally posted September 6, 2008. Comments attached.

Osteopathy vs. Cranio-Sacral Therapy

Many people are confused about the difference between an Osteopath who practices cranial osteopathy and a cranio-sacral therapist. The assumption is that they are the same thing, or at least have the same training.

Cranio-sacral therapists are often physical therapists or massage therapists who decide to take additional training in cranio-sacral therapy (CST). Before we go further I would like to compare the history of CST with Osteopathy in the Cranial Field (OCF).

In the early 1900s an osteopath named William Garner Sutherland began a private study of the motions of the bones of the cranium. He had been struck by an idea as a student that the bones of the head were beveled as if to indicate motion. He spent the next 20 years or so trying to prove himself wrong. Through a detailed examination of the anatomy of the skull, followed by a series of experiments on his own head and on his patients, he became convinced that there was a subtle motion of the head which could be palpated with experience; and that distortions of the joints between the bones of the skull would create problems in the machine of the body just as distortions of the joints of the body create problems. His treatments were gentle, almost imperceptible movements aimed at restoring free motion of the skull. Dr. Sutherland went on to spend the last 30 years of his life teaching others to carry on his work, and now OCF is taught in all osteopathic medical schools, and tested on the national licensing exams. There are two organizations dedicated to research, application, and teaching of the cranial concept, the Cranial Academy and the Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation.

Dr. John Upledger was a practicing Osteopath in Michigan when he attended his first OCF course. He began practicing, and researching, the motion of the cranial bones. He later decided to rename his technique CST and begin to teach it to anyone who applied for his courses. Because he is not teaching to physicians, Dr. Upledger does not teach diagnosis, nor do his students learn how to apply specific approaches to specific diseases. They are taught that intention is the key to a safe treatment but due to their lack of osteopathic training they are not able to handle the possible side-effects of their treatments, especially if they are not specific to the problem.

I have put together a table which outlines some of the differences between OCF and CST. I would recommend that if you have a problem for which you think cranial treatment might be indicated, search out a good Osteopath in your area. You can look here or here for a qualified physician.

One Response to “Osteopathy vs. Cranio-Sacral Therapy”

  1. 1

    July 23rd, 2009 at 2:04 amIs cranio sacral therapy really proven? I do know of a patient of mine who got it done for fibromyalgia with adverse effect. A lot of evidence is based on hearsay. It is dangerous when practised by rookie practitioners. It is not an effective tool in therapy for depression, stress relief, migraines etc.
    Therapist: I agree that craniosacral could be dangerous in the wrong practicioner’s hands. That is why I would encourage that anyone who is looking for this type of approach to their problems would look for an Osteopathic physician who is trained not only in the manual approach but also in the relevant anatomy, physiology, diagnostics, differential diagnosis, and treatments. That physician is in the best position to determine whether manual treatment would be a useful addition to their treatment plan. Thanks for reading!

1 thought on “Osteopathy vs Cranio-Sacral Therapy

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