Day 15: Craniosacral Therapy


This is Day 15 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.  

This past spring Mr Rockstar was in a bad place at school.  He was going to school without a fuss (which was unusual) but once he got there he was being defiant, not listening to his teachers, picking fights with kids, etc.  Frequently I was having to pick him up early because of misbehavior and then was left trying to figure out how to not make getting out of school early a reward.  It was miserable for everyone.

Between the behavioral therapist, the occupational therapist, and his wonderful teacher we were all at our wits ends.  Ultimately this rough patch is what finally convinced us to start seeing a pediatrician who specialized in behavioral issues and start Mr Rockstar on Tenex (basically the same medication as guanfacine and intuniv).  In the meantime, his teacher recommended we see a craniosacral therapist.  She had been seeing him for a number of years plus had referred a few students to him with good success.

What is Craniosacral Therapy?

“In the early 1900s, the osteopathic doctor William Sutherand developed a theory that the relationships and motions of the bones of the skull (cranium), of the fluid that flows through the brain and spinal column (cerebrospinal fluid), of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meninges), and of the bones of the lower back (sacrum) lie at the core of the body’s functioning and vital energy. A series of techniques grew out of these concepts, which were further developed in the 1970s by John Upledger, also an osteopathic doctor. Dr. Upledger coined the term craniosacral therapy, which refers to a form of therapeutic manipulation that is oriented to tissue, fluid, membranes and energy.”

“Craniosacral therapy practitioners touch areas of the patient lightly to sense the cranial rhythm impulse of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), said to be similar to feeling the pulse of blood vessels. Practitioners then use subtle manipulations over the skull and other areas with the aim of restoring balance by removing restrictions to CSF movement, a process that is proposed to help the body heal itself and improve a wide range of conditions. Treatment sessions usually last between 30 and 60 minutes.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests craniosacral therapy is beneficial for:

Craniosacral therapy


Unfortunately there are no scientific studies that prove craniosacral therapy is beneficial.  Only a couple studies have been done to date:

A study on the effects of craniosacral therapy on heart and breathing rates:
Early evidence shows that craniosacral therapy does not appear to have an effect on heart or breathing rates. More information is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

Pregnancy (labor and delivery):
Preliminary research shows that there is no added benefit for using craniosacral therapy during labor and delivery.

Having an engineering and data analysis background, I am ALL about the data (read about what data I collect daily on Mr Rockstar here and what data I found to support doing an Elimination diet for ADHD here).  So when Mr Rockstar’s teacher suggested we try craniosacral therapy I was really hesitant to try at first.  Finally we decided to give it a go.

Why? Because his teacher believed in it so much.  In my youth I would have mocked anything without solid scientific data but as I get older I see the value of things even if it is only psychological.  I knew his teacher would think it helped plus she would see us as trying everything we could for our little guy.  Besides changing the teachers perception of the situation, I was also able to tell Mr Rockstar the “doctor” was “massaging out all his worry”.  So Mr Rockstar also had a psychological effect.  He thought the craniosacral therapy would help him.  After one session he told me “Mommy, the doctor didn’t massage enough of the worry out.”  So he clearly was aware of what was going on and considering how it affected him (though maybe he thought it was not particularly effective.  I tried my best to stay positive about it and not let my doubts show to him.).  Besides the psychological benefits, I also thought some calming massage might help Mr Rockstar relax especially since he craves deep pressure with his sensory issues.

Hubby took Mr Rockstar to his first session with the therapist.  The next day was a really rough one with Mr Rockstar.  That evening as I was explaining our awful day to Hubby, he said, “I forgot to mention but the therapist said it would be a bad day because he “released blocked flow” in Mr Rockstar’s brain.” (or something along those lines).  So the therapist’s predictions did play out.

We did a few months of craniosacral therapy…. maybe 4 sessions total of about an 1hr each.  The therapist said he was “loosening” some bone in Mr Rockstar’s skull.  It started tight but after a session or two it was behaving more like it should and that this would free up the flow of spinal fluid, etc, etc.


From our experience:

Arguments Against:

  • We didn’t see any huge benefit.
  • There is no scientific data to prove it helps.  Maybe it is beneficial but it probably isn’t a cure all given the lack of data.
  • Be careful to find a reputable therapist since they are massaging your kid’s skull.

Arguments For:

  • We started Mr Rockstar on Tenex a couple sessions into seeing the craniosacral therapist so this made it hard to tell what if any benefit he was getting from the therapy.  Maybe he did get more benefit than we perceived.
  • Maybe if we had more sessions we would have seen a benefit.  But in any case it definetly wasn’t a silver bullet.
  • It encouraged his teacher that we were trying everything we could and changed her perception of Mr Rockstar’s behavior.
  • Mr Rockstar thought it was beneficial so it may have had a small impact on his behavior/anxiety level.

We stopped craniosacral massage therapy this summer.  Besides seeing limited benefits to it, we were so booked with doctors, therapists, etc that we needed to find more down time.  Ultimately, you can only see so many therapists each week so you have to narrow it down to the most helpful.

If you are interested in trying craniosacral therapy it is probably worth a shot.  It was a positive experience for us.  Maybe if we had stuck with it we would have seen a benefit to Mr Rockstar.

What is the weirdest thing you have tried to help your kid?

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