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Massage Today
December, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 12

Tales From the Cranial Frontier

By John Upledger, DO, OMM

While CranioSacral Therapy is a relatively young modality when viewed through the history of medicine, it owes its roots to concepts developed by a Civil War surgeon named Andrew Taylor Still, MD.

Dr. Still was a highly respected physician trained primarily by his father, who also was a well-known surgeon. When the war ended, Dr. Still returned home to his own personal devastation of epidemic proportions. Spinal meningitis had swept through his hometown earlier that year, killing three of his children.

Dr. Still returned to his private practice, which was affiliated with Washington University Medical School and hospital. By this time, between the Civil War and his own losses, he was greatly disillusioned by the state of medicine. As he began to search for new and better ways of treating people, he started to suspect that the potentially toxic medicines that had been prescribed to his family to combat the meningitis may have actually contributed to their deaths. Of course, as he began expressing these thoughts, he also became less and less popular with the Washington University medical group.

Word has it that Dr. Still then went to extreme measures to test his theory. He began to remove bodies from their graves in order to determine the actual causes of death. He discovered that in every case, one organ invariably contributed a great deal to the death of each body. While the particular organ varied from person to person, it appeared that organ failure likely was due to compromised blood and nerve support in every case. That is, the organ that failed may have been starved of blood and nerve contributions by the abnormal compression of arteries, which interfered with blood delivery.

The nerves going to the failing organs also were compressed or kinked, which meant the nerve energy that was supposed to go to the organ couldn't get there. Thus, the organ couldn't do its job and finally, it died. From these experiences, Dr. Still learned that all organs require adequate supplies of blood and nerve energy to survive. And if an organ doesn't survive, the body may not survive, either.

Dr. Still also discovered that the spinal columns in these bodies were malformed for different reasons, such as injuries, birth defects and arthritic effects. These structural abnormalities seemed to interfere with the outflow of nerve energy through the nerve roots that come out of the spinal cord through the spaces afforded by the bones of the spine.

With all this in mind, Dr. Still founded the field of osteopathy in the late 1800s. He also established the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (the college from which I graduated in 1963).

From Still's personal adventures in medicine came a huge body of work that can be highlighted by its four main principles. These also happen to be some of the primary reasons CranioSacral Therapy has emerged as such an effective natural therapy:

  • Structure and function are interrelated.
  • The body is a single, dynamic unit of function.
  • The body possesses self-regulatory and self-healing mechanisms.
  • Rational treatment is based on applying these principles.

During my last few years at Kirksville, I became friendly with an elderly man who told me he used to drive Dr. Still's stagecoach. They would travel around to the local farmhouses, stopping at each one. Dr. Still would simply walk up to the door, knock and ask if there was a sick person inside. If there was, he would begin treatment right there. If the illness was too serious, he would have the driver take the patient back to his clinic in Kirksville. Then he would simply untie his horse at the back of the carriage and continue alone along his planned route. After the patient was dropped off at the clinic, the driver caught up with Dr. Still and they continued on together.

It was great fun listening to this old man tell me his stories until late into the night. Today, it reminds me of the noble cause we all hold in our hearts as we reach out to touch more people with gentle, healing hands.

Click here for previous articles by John Upledger, DO, OMM.


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