Ask anyone in the bodywork realm and they'll have something definitive to say about craniosacral therapy, an alternative therapy in which a trained practitioner gently massages certain "touch points" on your skull and manipulates the tiny joints of your cranium.
While practitioners promise incredible benefits from this gentle treatment (which was pioneered by John E. Upledger, an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University), it's based on a somewhat controversial concept that the brain and spinal cord have certain "pulses" that can be adjusted by someone skilled in the practice.
While there are those who say they've seen beneficial results, there’s little scientific evidence that it works.
A 2011 study of those with fibromyalgia concluded that craniosacral therapy contributed to improved quality of life and reduced anxiety, but the National Institutes of Health concluded that much more research is needed to support many of the claims related to this therapy.
"All the proof that has been brought forward about craniosacral therapy seems to be anecdotal at best," says Scott Weiss, a licensed physical therapist, exercise physiologist and board-certified athletic trainer in New York City. "To me, that means that therefore craniosacral therapy has to be deemed pseudo-science."
That said, the practice has been helpful in individuals with a wide variety of health problems, including chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, neck pain and TMJ or disorders of the temporomandibular joint.
What is treatment like?
During the one- to two-hour treatment, a practitioner gently massages the touch points on a patient's skull to regulate cerebrospinal fluid and manipulate the tiny joints of the cranium. The practitioner also gently applies finger pressure to select points around the torso, knees and feet. Patients, who lie on a massage bed fully clothed, have reported relief from tension and an overall feeling of relaxation. Many attribute this pain relief and peaceful feeling to the release of endorphins, all of which may help some individuals manage pain.
"This therapy is ideal for the elderly, young children or people who tend to not be able to tolerate more physical treatment," says Todd Sinett, a chiropractor in New York City and author of "3 Weeks to a Better Back."
In the end, if you're seeking a gentler bodywork experience or have exhausted other pain relief options, you might consider trying this therapy. Just be sure to talk to your doctor and to seek out a practitioner who has professional training in this treatment.
To check whether your practitioner has the proper credentials, visit the website for the Osteopathic Cranial Academy, an international membership group that provides ongoing training.
"Most craniosacral practitioners are also osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers or massage therapists," Weiss adds. "And, since the therapy is based on light touches to the head, it can't hurt a patient, but it's always ideal to have someone with a certification or license to ensure that it is being done professionally."