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Sun Prairie, WI 53590

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Words of Wellness

Cranial-Sacral Helps family coping with a child with ADD - A Case Study

Cranial-Sacral Helps family coping with a child with ADD - A Case Study

Mark Sullivan, Licensed Massage Therapist, MLD, BCTMB


Life is crazy enough. Trying to strike a balance between professional, personal, family, school and recreation is often quite challenging. If you are a family with a young child diagnosed with attention deficient disorder (ADD), your situation is usually much worse. I became acquainted with Erin* whose daughter was diagnosed with ADD.

When I met Erin, she basically was at her wits' end. Katie, her wonderful daughter was a powerhouse. Although good natured and polite, she had to be constantly in motion from the time she awoke in the morning until her collapse from exhaustion late in the evening. Her lack of concentration, and sitting still not only affected her family, it also affected her studies as well as the classroom environment.

Katie was averaging about 4 hours of sleep a day, which meant that the rest of the family was also averaging 4 hours of sleep a day, which over a period of several days took a big toll on the family’s health. Katie had been seen by her family doctors, chiropractors, and family therapists with limited success. Erin was looking to try anything.

When I suggested that massage therapy could help Katie, she was intrigue and skeptical at the same time. How could massage therapy get results when all the medical interventions they tried could not. We discussed Katie’s situation a bit more, and came to an agreement to apply massage therapy in the form of Cranial-Sacral therapy.

What is Cranial-Sacral Therapy?

Cranial-Sacral therapy (CST) enhances the function of the central nervous system through soft tissues corrections of the musculoskeletal area of the skull, thorax, and sacrum areas. The body’s cranial-sacral system also includes the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Any restrictions in the membranes of this vital system can directly affect all aspects of central nervous system performance.

While CST as it is practiced today has existed since the early 1980s, its roots actually date back to the early 1900s and the theories of osteopathic physician William Sutherland. For more than 20 years he explored the concept that the bones of the skull were designed to allow for movement. He eventually developed his theories into a structural therapeutic method known as cranial osteopathy. In 1975 osteopathic physician John E. Upledger picked up the Dr. Sutherland's research and embarked on a scientific journey to confirm his theories as well as refine our understanding of the processes behind the Cranial-Sacral system. For the next seven years he led a research team at Michigan State University to find ways to address and treat the Cranial-Sacral system therapeutically. The team discovered is that the cerebrospinal fluid circulates through the brain and spinal cord via the rhythmic pattern of a semi-closed hydraulic cranial-sacral system, often called the Cranial-Sacral rhythm. When there is contracture in the soft tissues in the skull and/or spinal cord, the cyclical fluid dynamics of the cranial-sacral system is restricted forming adhesions. The cranial bones become held in their lesion patterns because of the anatomical connection of the soft tissue layers to the skull bones.

CST practitioners are taught how to palpate the subtle cranial-sacral rhythm to detect areas of restriction in the soft tissues. There are several places from the cranium to the sacrum where the CST practitioner will palpate for restrictions. Once the practitioner is drawn to a particular obstruction, the position is held for the tissues to release or self-correct. This involves the use of very gentle hand pressure. An exciting part of CST is when the CST practitioner initiates a still point. A still point happens when CST practitioner restricts the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the cranial-sacral system until it stops completely. When this happens, the cranial-sacral system performs a soft reset (like a soft reboot of a computer, for example) often releasing soft tissue restrictions throughout the system simultaneously. This technique is especially helpful for relaxing the musculature in clients who present with muscle tightness or spasms.

By normalizing the environment around the brain and spinal cord and enhancing the body’s ability to self-correct, Cranial-Sacral Therapy is able to alleviate a wide variety of dysfunction that includes:

  • Migraines and Headaches
  • Chronic Neck and Back Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Motor-Coordination Impairments
  • Infant and Childhood Disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Stress and Tension-Related Disorders
  • Central Nervous System Disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Learning Disabilities

However, clients with acute aneurysm, cerebral hemorrhage or other preexisting severe bleeding disorders would not benefit due to the negative impact that small changes in intracranial pressure could bring from an application of Cranial-Sacral Therapy. Concerned clients should seek the advisement of their physician before they receive Cranial-Sacral Therapy.

The Case Study

After discussing treatment options with Katie's parents, the goal chosen was to use Cranial-Sacral therapy to promote a better sleep pattern for Katie, which would also benefit the rest of the family. We schedule our first session.

When Erin brought Katie over, she was full of energy and could not sit still. As she told me about her hectic weekend, I tried to explain the treatment plan to Erin. After a few minutes we were able to get Katie to lie down on the treatment table. As Erin look on from a chair in the corner, I performed the initial body scan. Katie kept right on chattering, and moving her arms in an attempt to better describe her day. When I held Katie’s occipital region, I confirmed what I initially sensed during the body scan; that Katie’s cranial rhythm was sped up (going approximately twice as fast as it would normally).

As I continued to work on Katie’s cranium, a wondrous event started to take place. There were notable pauses in Katie’s conversation and her breathing pattern started to change. Then during the second CV4 (compression of the ventricle at C4, the fourth cervical vertebrae in the neck), a still point occurred and Katie stop talking altogether in mid-sentence much to Erin’s amazement. Katie’s rhythm had began to slow down and she was now starting to enter a relaxation state. The rest of the session took place in silence. When the session ended, Katie’s rhythm had returned to the normal range. She was calm and sleepy; a much different person that she was at the beginning of the session. I asked Katie if she remembered the moment she stop talking. She nodded and said, “I was attempting to say something and my mind just went blank”.

I instructed Erin to observe Katie’s behavior over the next few days to see how she responded to the treatment. A very happy Erin contacted me about a week later to inform me that since the session, Katie had been sleeping through the night, and that she had been much less hyperactive during the day to the appreciation of her classmates and teachers. The effects of the session lasted over a week. Additional visits with Katie provided the same results that lasted over longer periods. Now sessions are planned based on Katie’s behavior. In this case study, Cranial-Sacral therapy was a powerful treatment directly helping a child with ADD, and indirectly helping them rest of the family to cope.

* First names were used with permission of the family.

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