Cranial Osteopathy as a Treatment for Brain Injury

What Is Cranial Osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy, also known as cranial sacral therapy or craniosacral therapy, is manual manipulation of the cranial bones and membranes to allow the cerebral spinal fluid to flow properly.

Cranial Bones

What Are the Benefits of Cranial Osteopathy?

Many studies show that cranial osteopathy can help improve sleep, reduce light sensitivities and head pain, and improve quality of life.

The Science Behind Cranial Osteopathy

How Cranial Osteopathy Works

cranial osteopathy for a TBI patientThe central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, has subtle, rhythmic pulsations that are vital to health and can be detected and modified by a skilled craniosacral practitioner. This rhythmic pulsation can be blocked in brain injuries, impeding flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and reducing nourishment for the brain.


With cranial osteopathy, a craniosacral practitioner uses gentle hands to knead the 22 cranial bones, membranes, and CSF. This cranial manipulation addresses areas of restricted movement that compromise function to re-establish normal movement, subsequently reducing pain and improving daily functioning.


Because the craniosacral system encompasses the brain and spinal cord, it influences the entire nervous system, affecting many body functions. Patients often report a sense of deep relaxation during and after the cranial treatment session, and may feel light-headed. These effects are popularly associated with increases in endorphins, but research shows they may actually be brought about by the endocannabinoid system.

How Cranial Osteopathy Helps Traumatic Brain Injuries

It is postulated that head pain may frequently arise from or be influenced by various soft tissues and neurogenic or osseous structures of the head, neck, and upper body. Pain elicits a heightened response of the sympathetic nervous system that can create a vicious cycle by causing vasoconstriction, ischemia, chemical changes, more muscle contraction, and thus, more pain.


Techniques of cranial osteopathy are believed to improve circulation; release restrictions in joints; reduce tension in the muscles, fascia, and dura mater; decrease nociceptive input; and promote the normalization or calming of the central nervous system in traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients.*


*Results may vary; no guarantee of specific results


Prior literature has emphasized the importance of focusing on the occipitoatlantal joint, occipital condyles, and occipitomastoid joint; sphenobasilar syncondrosis in migraine; and use of craniosacral techniques for cervicogenic headache. In at least one small case series, cranial osteopathy was shown to be a helpful adjunctive therapy to traditional pharmacologic therapies for U.S. soldiers suffering from posttraumatic headache attributed to mild head injury.

Cranial Osteopathy Case Study for TBI Treatment

Cranial osteopathy is a commonly used but under-researched therapeutic approach. This case study explores the implementation of cranial therapy in the integrative inpatient treatment for sequelae of postoperative meningioma and TBI.


Case: A 50-year-old woman was admitted for two weeks of integrative inpatient treatment following meningioma resection and TBI.


Treatment: In addition to the integrative treatment approach, which included conventional as well as complementary and alternative medicine, the TBI patient received five sessions of cranial sacral therapy for refractory headaches, vertigo, and cervicobrachial syndrome during this time.


Results: At discharge, the reported intensity of the patient’s headaches on a 10-cm visual analogue scale decreased from 6-9 cm to 2-4 cm, and her level of vertigo decreased from 6-10 cm to 2 cm. Her cervical mobility and muscle tension, sleep quality, and general well-being also improved. The attending physicians saw cranial osteopathy as having contributed greatly to this improvement alongside use of phytotherapy and hyperthermia.*


*Results may vary; no guarantee of specific results


Conclusion: Implementation of cranial osteopathy in integrative inpatient care could benefit patients with headache and vertigo from intracranial injuries (Haller, Gramer, Werner, Dobos, 2015).


At TBI Therapy, cranial osteopathy is administered in this complementary manner to help reduce pain and discomfort as patients follow a broader treatment protocol that focuses on brain injury recovery with regenerative and adjunctive therapies.