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Massage Today
March, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 03

CranioSacral Therapy for a Multitude of Health Problems

By Nancy Westphal, LMT, CST-D; guest author for John Upledger, DO, OMM

It was an unseasonably warm day in October when my plane landed in Montana. I had just flown in from South Florida at the request of fellow craniosacral therapist Cindy Kafka. She had a patient whose injuries, she believed, were beyond her level of skill. A farming accident had left "Bill" (name changed to respect privacy) a quadriplegic; his neck, back and arms had been broken, possibly shattered. When paramedics first got to him, his body temperature was so low that they had to pour warm water onto his forearms (veins) just to keep him alive.

When I reached him he was rehabilitating in a nursing home with little hope of recovery. His sole goal with CranioSacral Therapy was simply to gain enough function to operate his computerized wheelchair. Yet it quickly became clear to us that any improvement would be welcome. So at the approval of the nursing home, I led a "multi-hands" CranioSacral Therapy intensive program. I worked with Bill alongside multiple therapists for 2 weeks: 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Kafka had arranged for several practitioners to join us; each one had basic craniosacral training and experience. My intention was not only to support Bill in his process, but also to help Cindy and her colleagues strengthen their skills and feel more confident in their ability to work with him on their own, after my departure.

Simple Techniques in Several Hands

At our initial evaluation, Bill's gray complexion indicated very poor circulation; his cranial vault had the sensation of being fused; and there was no palpable craniosacral rhythm. He had a serious infection in his toes. And he told us that for 6 months, doctors had been unable to control his raging bladder infection. He couldn't pass a normal bowel movement without pharmaceutical help. And as you would expect from dealing with a multitude of health problems, he was depressed.

As a therapeutic team, we blended together to support Bill in what would become a transformational journey. We listened deeply to his body, helped release restrictions in his craniosacral and fascial systems, encouraged the whole-body flow of fluid, and supported him in his process in whatever way he needed. Our job was to trust the work, trust our hands, and trust Bill's body to lead us through his unique healing sequence.

 - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
"Cranial pumping," a simple technique taught in entry-level CranioSacral Therapy, quickly proved invaluable. Essentially, the therapist tunes into the craniosacral rhythm while using gentle pressure to nudge the end range of flexion and extension. By day three, this technique had helped Bill's coloring change so dramatically that his night nurse, who had no idea what we were doing during the day, insisted on checking his temperature.

Bill's fluid circulation continued to improve every day. As he slowly gained more vitality, he became stronger, his outlook improved, and he began interacting more positively with everyone around him. On the fifth day of therapy, the infection in Bill's toes was gone, and he also reported that he had finally started relieving his bowel independently.

A New Level of Hope

Week two was full of even more encouraging change. Bill's nursing staff and fellow patients began giving him glowing compliments. His friends told him how great he looked, saying he seemed to be "back to his old self" again. Around town, people were even stopping us (his therapists) to mention how terrific Bill looked and how grateful they felt. This man was obviously loved.

Toward the end of his intensive-therapy program, Bill began to exhibit far more mobility, strength and control in one arm than we had expected. He wasn't able to write yet, but he wasn't far off. He also had finally stopped talking about how miserable he felt and started imagining his future again. For the first time in months, he was making plans for a new life.

I flew home deeply gratified to have been a part of such a profound healing and mentoring experience. In all the years I've been working in multi-hands intensive-therapy programs, I've never lost the significance of being blessed to witness the metamorphosis of another human being.

A week later Cindy told me she had checked on Bill. The bladder infection that had plagued him for 6 months was gone. As she left the room, he was sitting in his computerized wheelchair surrounded by friends...and laughing.

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

Nancy Westphal, LMT, CST-D is a diplomate-certified craniosacral therapist with two decades of experience. She is a clinician and mentor for therapists who want to improve their skills and help patients move past their plateaus. To contact Nancy or learn more visit her Web site at


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