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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

Cranial/Structural Soft-Tissue Releases

By Don McCann, MA, LMT, LMHC, CSETT

For the past 15 years, I have been working with a paradigm that has greatly expanded the effectiveness of my soft-tissue therapy. When I began applying the cranial/structural releases to initiate structural balance, there was a quantum leap in the effectiveness of my treatments and long-term rehabilitation for my clients.

The cranial/structural releases initiated an unwinding of the body out of its collapsed spiral that had been the cause of so much soft-tissue compensation and pain; and corrected the weight-bearing separation between the rotated iliums and tipped sacrum.

With weight-bearing support quickly established in the first 20 minutes of treatment, the old compensations and myofascial holding patterns in the soft tissue began to release, resulting in more efficient soft-tissue treatment and allowing the structure to move more easily into balance. Before the cranial/structural releases, it would usually take at least five to 10 sessions for any noticeable improvement in the client's structural collapse. Even then, the weight-bearing separation of the sacrum and ilium was not completely resolved. Let's look at the difference between craniosacral and cranial/structural soft-tissue releases.

Cranial/structural techniques are very different from craniosacral techniques in intent and application. Craniosacral techniques are applied within the soft-tissue restrictions of the normal cranial motion to achieve homeostasis. Cranial/structural techniques release the soft-tissue restrictions of the distorted cranial motion, resulting in structural balance throughout the body. Let's take an in-depth look at the need for cranial/structural techniques.

Within the structure of every client's body there exists a core distortion pattern. Many liken it to a spiral that runs throughout the structure, resulting in an anterior/posterior rotation of the iliums, a tipped sacrum and a degree of classic scoliosis. This spiral is evident from the top of the head down to the feet and, not surprisingly, also is found in the relationship of the bones and soft tissue of the cranium. When clients are experiencing musculoskeletal pain, there is an observable increase in the degree of this distortion. This can be viewed as a degree of structural collapse or a lack of structural support. The resulting pain can be evidenced in the compensation for this increased distortion, the strain in the musculature or the actual distortion of the skeletal structure. Thus, the key to relieving the painful symptoms and balancing the structural support system lies in releasing this exaggerated core distortion.

For years, in developing my soft-tissue protocols, I struggled with the major components of this core distortion, in an effort to relieve my clients' painful symptoms. Whether it was whiplash flexion/extension injuries, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, degenerative disc disease, bulging disc, carpal tunnel, nerve entrapment, sciatica, low back pain, hip pain, knee pain or foot pain - it was related to structural collapse. Therefore, addressing and releasing the core distortion pattern appeared to be the most direct way to achieve pain relief, homeostasis and a return to normal function.

Within every collapsed structure, I found an anterior/posterior rotation of the iliums, stretched ligaments between the sacrum and the ilium at the SI joint, and a tipped sacrum. The degree of distortion was directly influenced by the degree of the rotation of the iliums, the degree of stretched ligaments and the degree of tippage of the sacrum. Further, the degree of distortion in the body was directly proportional to the intensity of the pain and symptoms the client was experiencing. The longer the client remained in this distortion, the more the entire musculoskeletal system distorted into the lack of support, which usually resulted in an extended recovery process.

One of the greatest challenges was stabilizing the SI joint. While the client was on the table, the position of the iliums could be shifted through soft-tissue releases, and the feet and legs could be aligned to support the shift. However, when the client became weight-bearing, the weakened ligaments would not be able to stabilize the SI joint and the sacrum would again slip and tip, re-creating the structural collapse.

A missing link in the treatment to stabilize the pelvis was found in the relationship between the cranial bones, reciprocal tension membrane, dura and the myofascial planes of the body. Dr. G. Dallas Hancock, a chiropractic physician, discovered the relationship between two of the cranial bones (the sphenoid and the occiput), the sphenobasilar synchondrosis (SBS) where they meet, and the torsion of the pelvis. He noted that the rotation of the iliums and tippage of the sacrum were in direct relationship to the rotation of the wings of the sphenoid and the tippage of the occiput. I had the privilege of working with him to develop the techniques of releasing the cranial torsion of the SBS that successfully released the torsion of the pelvis.

One of the ways to understand the effect of this incredible discovery of Dr. Hancock's is to view these two cranial bones (sphenoid and occiput) as handles for the reciprocal tension membrane, dura and the entire myofascial plane of the body. The distortion found in the SBS joint is supported by the restrictions in the reciprocal tension membrane, dura and fascia, which affect the entire structure of the body. The techniques that were developed to unwind the torsion of the SBS released the restrictions in the reciprocal tension membrane and dura, which, in turn, released the restrictions in the myofascial planes of the body that related directly to the dura. In addition to the release of the restrictions in the dura, its relationship to the sacrum allowed the sacrum and the iliums to balance.

The greatest significance of this was that the weight-bearing separation of the SI joint was corrected, even though the ligaments had been stretched. Another exciting discovery was that clients would not return to this weight-bearing structural collapse unless a very severe trauma was experienced. With the balancing of the SI joint and iliums, the myofascial planes of the body down to the feet also were beginning to unwind and balance, bringing support into the entire structure.

The torsion found in the cranium also was the principal cause of problems such as TMJ. When the torsion was taken out of the cranium (SBS), a balancing of the bite took place. Most clients who suffered TMJ symptoms would have an immediate improvement. Even without focusing on the usual TMJ soft-tissue treatments, clients would continue to improve and often become pain-free.

Cranial work that focuses on this structural shift is called cranial/structural due to its direct relationship to structural balance. Prior to having these techniques to balance the SBS and correct the weight-bearing collapse found in the core distortion pattern, I was not able to achieve a long-term correction of the distortion in the pelvis. However, with the cranial/structural techniques, my clients showed dramatic changes in the initial session and I was able to achieve long-term correction of this distortion throughout the body in only a few treatments by integrating my soft-tissue protocols.

Case Study

Jerry, 33, an avid weekend basketball player, had been developing low back pain for five years. He was then rear-ended in an auto accident, resulting in a cervical flexion/extension injury and excessive soft-tissue damage. His chiropractor referred him for soft-tissue therapy, as he was having difficulty stabilizing his neck. At Jerry's first session, evaluation revealed a structural collapse of the core distortion with an anterior/posterior ilium rotation, tipped sacrum, scoliosis, reverse curvature of the neck and a jammed C1. Applied kinesiology evaluated the weakened strain patterns of the structural collapse and revealed weakness in the legs down to the feet.

The cranial/structural soft-tissue releases were applied and Jerry noticed an immediate improvement in the range of motion of his neck, less neck pain, a flattening of his back on the table and reduced back pain. Upon becoming weight-bearing, Jerry also noticed that both feet felt like they were directly under him with the weight evenly distributed. He was standing straighter, his arms were more equal along his sides, and the top of his left shoulder was no longer hurting. It was obvious there had been substantial improvement in Jerry's structure. It was now time for soft-tissue treatments to release the myofascial holding pattern and address shortened fascial fibers, adhesions and scar tissue from the auto accident, and the structural collapse from basketball. Jerry's neck stabilized in just two sessions.

Cranial/structural is most effective when applied at the beginning of the first session to release the core distortion pattern and balance the SI joint. However, the soft tissue (dura, reciprocal tension membrane and fascia) will only release so far using the cranial/structural techniques alone. The structure of the body is then trying to move into balance, but the soft tissue that was tightened and forming adhesions and restrictions in the holding pattern of the core distortion will impede the process. To complete the balancing process, it is necessary to include specific myofascial releases, myofascial unwinding, and scar and adhesion fiber work to allow the whole body to move into structural balance.


Click here for more information about Don McCann, MA, LMT, LMHC, CSETT.

 

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