CST debate: Health experts disagree on treatment's value

certified craniosacral therapist

"In 18 years of practice, I haven't worked with a single client that didn't benefit from the therapy."
Angel Phillips, shown here with a patient

Craniosacral therapy is a gentle modality with light touches applied to the skull and spine.

Angel Phillips, a certified craniosacral therapist and instructor in Minneapolis, says the soft palpations, administered by the practitioner, manipulate the layers of connective tissue and fluid — called the craniosacral system — and eases the movement of the fluid through the spinal cord.

She says she has seen its healing powers, which help the central nervous system's performance, overall body pain and mobility. Regardless of scientific evidence, or the lack thereof, Phillips believes the proof of CST's efficacy is in the testimonials of her patients.

"In 18 years of practice, I haven't worked with a single client that didn't benefit from the therapy," she says.

Phillips' highly rated practice, Blessing Way Bodywork, specializes in therapy for pregnant mothers, infants and children.

She says clients see her for a variety of reasons, including headaches, back pain, digestive disorders, fertility issues and even children struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder or autism. "It's very effective," she says. "The testimonials given by my clients attest to it."

Because of her experiences, Phillips has a hard time believing CST is nothing more than a placebo.

She says one of her clients has a 4-month-old daughter who used to be fussy and cried most of the time. When the baby came in for her second treatment, Phillips says the father happily reported that his daughter was happier and more relaxed.

"Anyone who doesn't think it really works has likely never experienced CST," she says.

Steve E. Hartman, a professor who specializes in alternative medicine, says CST is scientifically groundless.

"It's one of the many imaginary treatments masquerading under the euphemism of alternative health care," says Hartman, who has taught gross anatomy at the University of New England's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine, since 1986.

Hartman says other than testimonials, CST practitioners offer no scientific evidence explaining the biology behind the treatment, nor can they produce evidence the procedure actually helps.

"In rational discourse, it's understood those making extraordinary claims carry the burden of proof," he says. "If I tell you there's a rhinoceros in the woods behind my house, it would be my job to show evidence, not yours to prove me wrong."

Hartman says, despite no proof of CST's efficacy, people still seek it out. He attributes this to practitioners' claims to heal anything from headaches to learning disorders. "Some are drawn to it because other science-based treatments were unsuccessful."

He adds when health improvements follow CST, it's probably a placebo effect, meaning patients may conclude the treatment has been effective because they believe it to be true.

"I'm not sure whether infants can experience placebo effects," Hartman says. "But parents may see immediate results because they want to — not because the treatment had a direct effect."

Hartman's published several articles on the topic of CST in Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and says there hasn't been any peer-reviewed retorts to his conclusions. "It's a belief system, not a medicine," Hartman says.

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I am a massage provider and a registered nurse. I am not trained in CST. ( I practice tuina and shiatsu.) While some of the claims made for CST may seem excessive, my own experiences receiving it have all been positive and effective. I don't think that the benefits of the "emotional" effects should be dismissed. Mind, body, and spirit are one. This is a fundamental difference between holistic approaches and mechanistic approaches. The next step should be RESEARCH - holistically designed and carried out.

Don't listen to hartman or dr. richard rheumatologist, they are quacks. Top doctors in houston referred conjoined twins to Upleger in Palm Beach to help the twins begin to funtion independently so that separation surgery could take place. Only after CST did the surgery take place. This was in the news all over the country and it isn't an isolated incident. I have received and now include CST in my practice. What our rheumatologist doesn't get, still, is that there is NO DIVISION of mind and body, Descartes was wrong! T. B. Acupuncture Physician Licensed Massage Therapist Instructor: Chen Taijiquan

Energy medicine, one of the broad categories considered part of alternative health care that is available today, and which encompasses BEST, TBM, CST, and many other modalities, is difficult to measure by the standards of traditional medicine. However, Professor Hartman ought to look at, for instance, the proof which Dr. Morter and his doctor children have amassed in the practice and presentation of BEST (Morter HealthSystem is a complete system of health care featuring the original sensory-specific technique called the Bio Energetic Synchronization Technique, or BEST). He will realize that distinguished doctors and professors at distinguished universities and medical facilities have been favorably impressed by what they have, themselves, witnessed. This is only one example of success in the much more subtle field of alternative care. Professor Hartman makes himself sound less than open-minded. He should beware; that stance can only damage his reputation as an objective professional.

I've been both practitioner and receiver of CST for several years. I challenge the author and Hartman to engage in the treatment. There is a noticeable change when you have the treatment. I get treatments from a practitioner who has had extensive advanced training and her treatments are awesome. CST is only one part of treating an issue. The client must take responsibility for their contribution to re-balancing the body, Try it and see.

I am a physical therapist and have used CST with positive results. I cannot fully explain it but neither do I totally dismiss it. Anyone who is staying up on health research can see that the human body continues to amaze. And there is an increased awareness and acceptance of the mind/body connection. We are still novices when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the good, bad and wondrous effects of any treatment, chemical or physical. Placebo, who knows? Isn't that a result of the mind/body connection? Let's keep searching for answers rather than summarily discounting a technique that has had a positive effect on hundreds of thousands over the years.

I had my first experience with CST while visiting in Arizona last week. It should be noted that CST is often used in conjunction with other therapies offered b the certified practitioner. It is very relaxing and as with most types of massage, you feel the after effects of detoxification. I had no expectations before treatment and based upon my experience, will be locating a licensed practitioner in the Columbus area.

I am a rheumatologist who works with musculoskeletal patients every day. The telling comment in the article is that the practitioner hasn't seen a single person in 18 years who didn't improve. Surely in that time she would have come across someone with a condition she couldn't help; this tells me that the benefit has more to do with the emotional interaction between patient and therapist than with any physical change.

re: article & Diane's comments.. I really do appreciate this information and especially for the follow up from Diane. I am 60 years of age and can remember as far back as the age of 7 that I would get so ill with headaches. I have received some improvement through prescription therapy but would love to meet with any medical professional in the area of the community I live in. I really do believe that I am seriously interested in trying this type therapy out. It would be great to not have to exist in so much pain. For me, I am much appreciated in pain relief in any kind of volume.

There's a big difference between "there have been studies and they found no benefit" and "there haven't been studies, so we don't know whether there's a benefit." Mr Hartman doesn't say which case it is, so I'm inclined to think it's the latter. Alternative medicine often has a hard time getting funding for studies, especially large ones.

My daughter has suffered from migraines for 10 years. She has tried all sorts of "medical" and alternative treatment, keeping both an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism, hoping for relief. It wasn't until she started CST that she has finally achieved results. She is bewildered about how the treatment works, but it works for her. Hallelujah!

I complete disagree with Mr. Hartman and I find it convenient that he dismissed CST without any scientific or medical discussion. The cow analogy does not convince me. As a medical professional, not a CST, I do know how CST works. I have personally had CST for back spasms that are now gone. But I am far more impressed with my friend who has Chiari malformation. She has made tremendous gains as a result of CST.

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