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Craniosacral Therapy for Headaches and Migraines

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) can be beneficial for people with headaches and migraines as it works on different systems in the body. If you have ever had a CST session you know how relaxing it can be. Tension headaches respond very well to CST as do other kinds of headaches that are made worse with stress.


In this article we will explore how CST reduces pain related to headaches and migraines, and compare CST with acupressure to see how they are similar and different. Finally, we will briefly discuss how CST can be beneficial for anxiety and other stress related emotions. 

a woman is receiving craniosacral therapy and thumbs are placed on her forehead

How Can Craniosacral Therapy Help with Headaches and Migraines?


There are several ways that CST can help with headaches and migraines. This includes working through the fascia, autonomic nervous system (ANS), cranial bones, and with the fluid that surrounds the brain and spine. 


One way that CST works is through releasing tension that gets held in the fascia. The fascia are a type of connective tissue that surrounds your muscles and connects different muscles together. When we experience pain, it may be due to tension being held in the body, muscles, or fascia. Tension headaches are a common problem that results from too much stress, and they typically occur in the temples or even behind the eyes. Craniosacral therapy can be especially effective for tension headaches because it releases tension through the fascia by using gentle touch and pressure.


Another way that CST works is through the autonomic nervous system (ANS), this part of your nervous system relates to the fight and flight response, and it is easily triggered by stress, anxiety, and trauma. The ANS is divided into two parts, the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is related to the adrenaline response and works to increase the heart rate, open the lungs, and send blood to the muscles for fighting or fleeing. The SNS is activated during stress, and chronic stress can cause numerous health problems such as heart disease, digestive problems, lower immune function, and more. 


The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the opposite of the SNS, and it calms the body down and promotes sleep and digestion. The PNS also slows down the heart and respiratory rate and helps people feel relaxed and peaceful. Many forms of alternative healing such as massage, acupuncture, and CST will induce a PNS response and leave people feeling rested. These therapies can also frequently cause people to fall asleep, and this sleep inducing effect occurs through the PNS. 

Is Craniosacral Therapy Good for Migraines?

Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor

There are several different kinds of migraines, and depending on the cause, CST will have different effects. Some people with migraines may get good results with CST and find that it helps to reduce the intensity of the pain as well as the frequency of pain. For migraines that are related to stress, tension headaches, or neck pain it is very possible that CST can provide relief. However, it is important to talk to your doctor to see if CST is right for you. Similarly, you may find that CST works best when combined with other treatments for migraines such as using medications, chiropractics, or acupuncture. 


A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that CST could be effective for migraines. In the study the researchers found that many things improved with CST. Not only did pain levels decrease, but the frequency of migraines episodes decreased, as did medication intake. Positive results were also noted for functional, emotional, and overall disability resulting from migraines. This is promising because the study shows that CST helps with many aspects of problems people face when they have migraines. 

Headaches and Migraines in the Back of the Head


Some kinds of headaches and migraines start in the back of the head and can be related to neck pain and tension. If you are holding tension in your neck or shoulders, it is possible that the tension can pull on the muscles and fascia that connect to the back of your head. Similarly, if you have a severe neck condition like a herniated disc in your cervical vertebrae, this can cause pain in the back of the head as well. If tension in the neck or shoulders is severe enough it can even result in a migraine. 


Therapies such as CST and acupressure can be useful for these kinds of headaches since they can release the tension in the muscles and fascia in the neck, shoulders, and back of the head. Acupressure for headaches and migraines can be applied in a variety of ways. In some forms of acupressure and acupuncture, a therapist may use pressure or needles on your hands or feet to stop the pain. Acupressure may also be applied to your head or neck, and the gentle pressure that these systems use is often enough to relax the muscles, fascia, and ANS. 

What the Difference Between Craniosacral Therapy and Acupressure?


In many regards, they are similar since both use pressure on specific points and regions of your body. However, acupressure tends to use more pressure and can be much like a massage. Craniosacral therapy, on the other hand, uses very gentle pressure on different areas for an extended amount of time. CST also emphasizes holding techniques that are done in stillness. For instance, a craniosacral therapist may hold your head for 10 minutes or longer, without changing the points they are pressing. With acupressure, the therapist will press harder on the points, use specialized techniques on the points, and change points more frequently with flowing motions. Points may be pressed with various levels of pressure over a period of 30 seconds to 2 minutes with acupressure, and after that is done the therapist may move to other points in different areas. However, with CST a therapist may provide very subtle pressure while holding your head for an extended amount of time.  Acupressure is more dynamic, whereas CST works with more gentle pressure to induce stillness. Learn more about how acupressure can be used for both headaches and migraines at the links below.


Pressure Points for Headaches

Acupuncture for Headaches

Pressure Points for Migraines

Is Craniosacral Therapy Good for the Emotions?

Since CST benefits the autonomic nervous system and helps to reduce excessive stress and tension, it can be useful for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Its calming and soothing effects can play a major role in helping people to regulate their emotions. It is also effective when people hold emotional tension in their bodies. When we experience emotions there are two components to them. There are the thoughts that accompany our emotions, and these thoughts feel as if they are in our head. The second aspect of emotions are the feelings, and this is what we feel in our bodies. For instance, when we feel a strong sense of love, we may feel that in our heart or chest. Similarly, grief can feel like a broken heart. 


In somatic therapies, they work with both the feelings and emotions in our bodies and the thoughts in our minds. Craniosacral therapy is a kind of hands-on therapy that often helps people release emotions that are being held in their body. When gentle touch, pressure, and holds are done, such as in CST, it has a way of putting people in touch with their bodies and helping them experience how they hold emotions in their bodies. CST helps to make people more aware of their bodies and how they hold tension, stress, and emotions in their bodies. This can be very liberating!

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