Cranial Osteopathy/Craniosacral Osteopathy

Cranial Osteopathy


Cranial osteopathy originated from the work of osteopath William Sutherland in the early 1900's. This gentle but powerful form of osteopathy uses the patient’s cranial rhythm for diagnosing and treating tensions and dysfunctions in the body. Unlike most physicians, cranial osteopaths believe that the skull is not a rigid structure, its bones move in a rhythmic manner throughout life. Cranial osteopaths focus on the pulsing of the fluid which nourishes and protects the membranes surrounding the brain, spinal cord and sacrum, this pulsing is called the Cranial Rhythm (or Primary Respiratory or Involuntary Mechanism), it is a movement of expansion and contraction of all the tissues of the body. Cranial osteopaths believe that any disturbances in the flow of this fluid will reflect pressures on the cranial bones or injuries or tensions in the body.

A session
Cranial osteopathy is a non-invasive therapy. Using light touch, practitioners assess the quality of the patients' Cranial Rhythm and compare it to what they consider to be a normal rhythm, they can then judge the state of the patient's body and how well it is functioning. During a session the practitioner will delicately manipulate the cranial and spinal bones in order to restore the cranial rhythm, boost blood circulation and drain lymph and sinus fluids in the head. While the practitioner holds the appropriate bones and gently manipulates tissues, the patient is asked to concentrate on releasing tension and breathing.


- Carruthers, Richard. An integrated approach to children with Down’s Syndrome - a conference report. British Osteopathic Journal 1990. IV. 18-21

- Nicholas J.R. Handoll, D.O. The Osteopathic Management of Children with Down's Syndrome. “Appropriate treatment from birth given by suitably trained osteopaths can offer a safe, non-invasive and effective means of maintaining a patent airway. It is postulated that this will reduce some of the severe and widespread disabilities which handicap the individual with trisomy 21.

- Perrin RN, Edwards J and Hartley P. An evaluation of the effectiveness of osteopathic treatment on symptoms associated with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. A preliminary report. Journal of Medical Engineering and Technology, 22

Craniosacral Osteopathy


Craniosacral therapy was developed from cranial osteopathy. The term craniosacral was coined by Dr John E Upledger in the 1970's, cranio refers to the head or cranium, and sacral refers to the tailbone or base of the spine. Craniosacral therapists, like cranial osteopaths, believe that the bones that make up the skull do not fuse together to protect the brain. The brain and the spinal cord are bathed in the cerebrospinal fluid which goes upwards and downwards. Practitioners focus on the membranes encasing the brain and spinal cord, in contrast to cranial osteopaths, who focus on the bones of the cranium; they believe that it is the membranes that generate the cranial rhythm and that this rhythm affects every cell in the body.

A session
Treatment involves cradling the head or sacrum. Craniosacral therapists have a refined sense of touch, they are said to be able to listen or tune in with their hands resting lightly mainly on the head or other parts of the body. As the therapist listens to the body he/she can detect signals of distress sent by the body. Corrective pressure is applied to the cranium and spine to normalise the cranial rhythm, although it seems that nothing is happening, the patient can feel sensations of warmth, pulsations and release of tension. Because it is so gentle craniosacral therapy is said to be suitable for children.
Contrary to cranial osteopathy, sacrocranial osteopathy is not included in the general osteopathic curriculum, practitioners are generally body workers who wish to broaden their skills.


- Chaitow, Leon Review of aspects of cranio-sacral theory. British Osteopathic Journal 1997. XX. 14-22

- Attlee T. Cranio-sacral therapy and the treatment of common childhood conditions. Health Visit 1994 Jul;67(7):232-234. “Common childhood conditions such as colic, poor sleep, recurrent ear infection, glue ear, regurgitation, poor feeding and inconsolable screaming may be treated successfully through the gentle, noninvasive methods of cranio-sacral therapy

Conditions that may respond to both treatments

Back and neck pain
Cerebral palsy
Digestive problems
Down’s syndrome
Ear infections
Learning difficulties
Meniere's disease
Menstrual problems
Mood disorders
Spinal cord injury
Temporomandibular joint syndrome

If undertaking any therapy, always check its suitability for a specific condition.


The International Cranial Association
478 Baker Street
Middlesex EN13QS
Tel: 020 8367 5561

The British Osteopathic Association
Langham House West
Bedfordshire LU1 2NA
Tel: 01582 488455

British School of Osteopathy
275 Borough High Street
London SE1 1JE
Tel: 020 7407 0222

Osteopathic Centre for Children (OCC)
109 Harley Street
London W1G 6AN
Tel: 020 7486 6160

The Upledger Institute UK
2 Marshall Place
Perth PH2 8AH
Tel: 01738 444404

Craniosacral Therapy Association of the UK
Monomark House
27 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 07000 784 735

General Council and Register of Osteopaths
56 London Street
Berkshire RG1 4SQ

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