Related Terms

  • CV-4 craniosacral technique, chiropractic care, cranial bone manipulation, cranial manipulation, cranial osteopathic techniques, cranial osteopathy, cranial rhythmic impulse, cranial techniques, CranioSacral bodywork, CranioSacral therapy, craniosacral therapy technique, cranio-occipital technique, CST, Primary Respiratory Mechanism (PRM), reciprocal tension membrane system (RTM), Upledger method.


  • In the early 1900s, the osteopathic doctor William Sutherand developed a theory that the relationships and motions of the bones of the skull (cranium), the fluid that flows through the brain and spinal column (cerebrospinal fluid), the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meninges), and 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.
  • Cranial manipulation has reportedly been practiced in India for centuries. In the 18th Century, a philosopher and scientist named Emmanuel Swedenborg claimed that the brain moves with regular cycles of expansion and contraction.
  • Craniosacral therapy has been suggested as a treatment for various conditions, including asthma, cerebral palsy in children, headache, labor and delivery, low back pain, and torticollis in infants. However, there is a lack of scientific data on the safety and effectiveness of the therapy.
  • Skeptics have raised various criticisms about craniosacral therapy. For example, some argue that scientific evidence does not support the theories for cranial bone movement since the cranial bones fuse during adolescence. Others argue that the cerebrospinal fluid pulsation is caused by the functioning of the cardiovascular system and not by the craniosacral system.

Evidence Table


    These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.


    Early research suggests that craniosacral therapy may help improve pulmonary function and improve quality of life in patients with asthma. More studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

    Cerebral palsy (in children)

    There is not enough evidence to support the use of craniosacral therapy in the treatment of cerebral palsy in children.

    Headache (tension, migraine)

    A review of several studies did not find compelling evidence of benefit for craniosacral therapy in patients with tension-type headaches. Additional study is needed.

    Labor and delivery

    Early studies suggest that craniosacral therapy may not offer added benefits during labor and delivery. Pregnant women considering the use of craniosacral therapy should first consult their qualified obstetricians.

    Low back pain

    There is not enough evidence to support the use of craniosacral therapy in the management of low back pain.

    Torticollis (post-traumatic in infants)

    There is currently not enough information available to support the use of craniosacral therapy in infants with post-traumatic torticollis.

*Key to grades:



    The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.



    Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.


  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ().



    Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to . Selected references are listed below.

  • Green C, Martin CW, Bassett K, et al. A systematic review of craniosacral therapy: biological plausibility, assessment reliability and clinical effectiveness. Complement Ther Med 1999;7(4):201-207.
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  • Greenman PE, McPartland JM. Cranial findings and iatrogenesis from craniosacral manipulation in patients with traumatic brain syndrome. J Am Osteopath Assoc 1995;95(3):182-188.
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  • Hartman SE, Norton JM. Craniosacral therapy is not medicine. Phys Ther 2002;Nov, 82(11):1146-1147.
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  • Hanten WP, Dawson DD, Iwata M, et al. Craniosacral rhythm: reliability and relationships with cardiac and respiratory rates. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 1998;Mar, 27(3):213-218.
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  • Hehir B. Head cases: an examination of craniosacral therapy. Midwives (Lond) 2003;Jan, 6(1):38-40.
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  • Maher CG. Effective physical treatment for chronic low back pain. Orthop Clin North Am 2004;35(1):57-64.
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  • McPartland JM, Mein EA. Entrainment and the cranial rhythmic impulse. Altern Ther Health Med 1997;Jan, 3(1):40-45.
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  • Mehl-Madrona L, Kligler B, Silverman S, et al. The impact of acupuncture and craniosacral therapy interventions on clinical outcomes in adults with asthma. Explore (NY). 2007 Jan-Feb;3(1):28-36.
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  • Moran RW, Gibbons P. Intraexaminer and interexaminer reliability for palpation of the cranial rhythmic impulse at the head and sacrum. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2001;Mar-Apr, 24(3):183-190.
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  • Phillips CJ, Meyer JJ. Chiropractic care, including craniosacral therapy, during pregnancy: a static-group comparison of obstetric interventions during labor and delivery. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1995 Oct;18(8):525-9.
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  • Quaid A. Craniosacral controversy. Phys Ther 1995;Mar, 75(3):240. Comment in: Phys Ther 1994;Oct, 74(10):908-916. Discussion, 917-920.
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  • Rogers JS, Witt PL, Gross MT, et al. Simultaneous palpation of the craniosacral rate at the head and feet: intrarater and interrater reliability and rate comparisons. Phys Ther 1998;Nov, 78(11):1175-1185.
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  • Rogers JS, Witt PL. The controversy of cranial bone motion. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 1997;Aug, 26(2):95-103.
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  • Upledger JE. Craniosacral therapy. Phys Ther 1995;Apr, 75(4):328-330. Comment in: Phys Ther 1994;Oct, 74(10):908-916. Discussion, 917-920.
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  • Wirth-Pattullo V, Hayes KW. Interrater reliability of craniosacral rate measurements and their relationship with subjects’ and examiners’ heart and respiratory rate measurements. Phys Ther 1994;Oct, 74(10):908-916. Discussion, 917-920. Comment in: Phys Ther 1995;Apr, 75(4):328-330. Phys Ther 1995;Mar, 75(3):240.
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