Craniosacral Therapy for Migraine

Craniosacral (or cranial sacral) therapy feels the most like witchcraft of any of the migraine treatments I’ve tried. Despite being performed by a massage therapist, CST is nothing like typical massage. Instead, the massage therapist holds your head or rests their hands on parts of your face, then makes almost imperceptible pulsating movements. They run their fingers lightly through your hair, softly stroke your face, and gently tug on your ears. At the end of the session, they cradle your sacrum and maybe run their hands over your feet. The touch is so light that it feels like it couldn’t possibly make a difference. Yet every alternative health care provider seems to recommend it as a migraine treatment and even some conventional providers suggest it.

Providers say CST works by manipulating the bones of the skull and the dura mater (the membrane just below the skull) in a way that relieves cerebrospinal fluid pressure or arterial pressure1. However, many people question whether the bones and dura mater are as flexible as this would require and a recent systematic review of literature showed no evidence for CST’s efficacy2. My quack meter would have me dismissing CST completely if not for the well-regarded headache specialist who told me she believes CST is effective because it relieves the nerve fibers within the sutures of the skull.

Since I’ve been feeling frustrated and thwarted recently in my attempts at migraine treatment, I was receptive when my therapist/naturopath raved about a local craniosacral therapist’s success in treating migraine. The massage therapist was willing to give me a big discount if I came in three times a week out and her office is three minutes from my house. Knowing I wouldn’t be out too much money or time if I tried it for a few weeks and that the sessions would at least be relaxing, I went for it.

I didn’t expect results, not only because the research supporting CST is meager, but because I tried it six or seven years ago with no change to the migraines. I was pleasantly surprised when I left the first session with my pain one notch lower on a 0-10 pain scale than it was when I arrived and it didn’t escalate again that day. Sessions two and three produced similar results, even on the day I’d had a migraine that was gearing up to be a bad one. Unfortunately, I stopped seeing an improvement after third session. I’m not sure if this is because the therapist worked for 45 minutes the first three sessions and only 30 minutes each of the next four, or if my body simply stopped responding to the treatment.

The jury is still out. I’m hopeful that CST will at least provide some relief in acute migraine attacks, even if doesn’t ultimately prove to be a helpful preventive. I’d love to hear from readers who have experience with CST. Does it reduce the intensity or frequency of your migraine attacks? Is it helpful as a preventive therapy or mostly as an abortive?

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