Living with chronic or acute pain can be debilitating. It can cause not only high levels of stress, but also significant changes in mood and daily life activities. Default treatments like anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers, physical therapy, appropriate exercises, application of heat or cold may often ease the pain. When they don’t, it’s hard to evaluate the other healthcare options that might help. I will explain why biodynamic craniosacral therapy (BCST) is an option worth considering if you suffer from a pain condition.
Only recently has research begun to uncover what makes craniosacral therapy (CST) effective. As a result, when someone is referred to me, they generally have no idea what to expect, what they are in for, and whether biodynamic craniosacral therapy can really help them.
Pain generally causes a couple of things to happen in the body. First it leads to muscle tension. Muscle tension causes compression of nerves and blood vessels, which decreases blood flow. Decreased blood flow means impaired waste removal from the body as well as limited absorption of nutrients and oxygen into the body. Muscles shorten to accommodate for the decreased blood flow, movement becomes restricted, and the body enters into a general state of irritation and overall low- to high-grade stress, as well as activation of the fight-or-flight part of your nervous system, which is called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
On top of this, often the person in pain is doing some kind of compensation. In order to avoid further irritation of the pain site, the person in pain will change how they walk, sit, sleep, eat, etc. to try to diminish the pain level. Short term there may be some pain relief, but long term the pain often becomes worse due to a combination of exhaustion, stress, and misalignment.
Sound familiar? It certainly does for me.
The thing to understand here is that pain is a request for attention from your body. It’s your body raising a red flag and saying: PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!! That request often boils down to your body needing three things:
- The sympathetic nervous system turned off and the parasympathetic nervous system turned on.
Point 1 and point 2 are fundamental to sustained body health. To use the car metaphor, your car will stop in the middle of the road if you don’t fill up your gas tank and will be more prone to malfunction if you don’t do maintenance on it after a certain number of miles. Similar to a car, but far more complex, your body will malfunction or stop working if it’s not maintained or well resourced.
Point 3 is the most basic explanation of how biodynamic craniosacral therapy works. In Western scientific terms, biodynamic craniosacral therapy is thought to ease pain by deactivating the sympathetic nervous system and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the rest-and-digest branch of the autonomic nervous system or the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system. The deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and the increase in vagal tone, which illustrates the functional state of the parasympathetic nervous system, can lead to the decompression of muscles and other body tissues, the dilation of blood vessels increasing blood flow, and the induction of the body into a general state of rest for an hour. Sometimes patients report an increase in pain initially as blood flow and nerve electrical conduction increase through tissue decompression. After this spike, pain condition may improve considerably, getting 5-15% better per treatment.
Biodynamic craniosacral therapy may benefit conditions associated with chronic or acute pain. Some people who have used BCST as part of their therapy regime have reported a more rapid remission from pain symptoms, and in some cases have avoided any further interventions.
For those interested in tools to help manage pain, here is a simple exercise.
Samantha Lotti is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, acupuncturist and herbalist in Chicago, Illinois. For more information: www.biodynamichealth.com.