Mary Ellen Clark, Olympic Medallist, Recovers from Vertigo with Craniosacral Therapy

By Dr. Ari Klein 5/27/2007

Two time Medallist in women’s platform diving, Mary Ellen Clark, was an Olympic winner in 1982. Shortly after, she fell ill with a severe bout of vertigo. She was not getting any better and had already tried a wide variety of allopathic and holistic therapies. Fortunately, after a long medical journey, Mary Ellen learned of Craniosacral therapy. After a series of sessions the vertigo resolved. Able to train again, Mary Ellen won her second Olympic medal in 1996.

Craniosacral therapy is a holistic healing practice that uses very light touching to balance the craniosacral system in the body, which includes the bones, nerves, fluids, and connective tissues of the cranium and spinal area. Craniosacral therapy identifies and reduces perceived restrictions in movement of the dural sheath, which covers the brain and spinal cord, and in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid as a means of restoring well-being.

I have had many patients, like Mary Ellen, who have had severe cases of vertigo due to viruses, injuries, and other causes.  Most of them felt they had weeks or months of convalescence ahead of them. Often I have relieved their symptoms within a few sessions of craniosacral therapy.

Craniosacral  therapy can address the symptoms of many conditions. These include headaches, migraines, allergies, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fevers, back pain, insomnia, sciatica, and much more.

While the list of problems that may be addressed by craniosacral therapy is extensive, Dr. John Upledger explains why this gentle technique has such a high rate of success in helping people recover from a variety of problems.

In his article, The Therapeutic Value of The Craniosacral  System, Dr Upledger D.O., states that “If it seems odd that so many different dysfunctions can derive benefit  from craniosacral therapy, it’s that when then there is an imbalance in the craniosacral system, the brain and spinal cord do not function properly.” This insult, affecting the core structures of your physical being, can lead to a cascade of symptoms and imbalances in the body. Once the Craniosacral system is restored to balance, the body’s self-healing properties are activated.

According to Dr. John Upledger, craniosacral therapy is ideally suited for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, pain, and general health maintenance. It is recommended for autism, fibromyalgia, heart disease, osteoarthritis, pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic sinus infections, and gastroenteritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach or small intestine). It is also used with other therapies to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain, and menstrual irregularity. In addition, other craniosacral practitioners have reported benefits for eye dysfunction, dyslexia, depression, motor coordination difficulties, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), hyperactivity, colic, asthma in babies, floppy baby syndrome, whiplash, cerebral palsy, certain birth defects, and other central nervous system disorders.

The first written reference to the movement of the spinal nerves and its importance in life, clarity, and “bringing quiet to the heart” is found in a 4,000-year-old text from China. Craniosacral work was referred to as “the art of listening.” Bone setters in the Middle Ages also sensed the subtle movements of the body. They used these movements to help reset breaks and dislocations and to treat headaches.

In the early 1900s, the research of Dr. William Sutherland, an American osteopathic physician, detailed the movement of the cranium and pelvis. Before his research it was believed that the cranium was a solid immovable mass. Sutherland reported that the skull is actually made up of 22 separate and movable bones that are connected by layers of tissue. He called his work cranial osteopathy. Nephi Cotton, an American chiropractor and contemporary of Sutherland, called this approach craniology. The graduates of these two disciplines have refined and enhanced these original approaches and renamed their work as sacro-occipital technique, cranial movement therapy, or craniosacral therapy.

Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, and others at the Department of Biomechanics at Michigan State University, College of Osteopathic Medicine learned of Sutherland’s research and developed it further. He researched the clinical observations of various osteopathic physicians. This research provided the basis for Upledger’s work that he named “craniosacral therapy.”

Craniosacral therapy addresses the craniosacral system. This system includes the cranium, spine, and sacrum that are connected by a continuous membrane of connective tissue deep inside the body, called the dura mater. The dura mater also encloses the brain and the central nervous system. Sutherland noticed that cerebral spinal fluid rises and falls within the compartment of the dura mata. He called this movement “the primary respiratory impulse.” Today it is known as the craniosacral rhythm (CSR), or the cranial wave.

Craniosacral therapists can most easily feel the CSR in the body by lightly touching the base of the skull or the sacrum. During a session, they feel for disturbances in the rate, amplitude, symmetry, and quality of flow of the CSR. A therapist uses a very gentle touch to balance the flow of the CSR. Once the cerebrospinal fluid moves freely, the body’s natural healing responses can function.

A craniosacral session generally lasts 30-90 minutes. The client remains fully-clothed, lying on a massage table while the therapist gently assesses the flow of the CSR. Upledger describes several techniques which may be used in a craniosacral therapy session.
The first is energy cyst release. According to Upledger, “This technique is a hands-on method of releasing foreign or disruptive energies from the patient’s body. Energy cysts may cause the disruption of the tissues and organs where they are located.” The therapist feels these cysts in the client’s body and gently releases the blockage of energy.

Sutherland first wrote about a second practice called direction of energy. In this technique the therapist intends energy to pass from one of his hands, through the patient, into the other hand.

The third technique is called myofascial release. This form of bodywork releases tension in the fascia or connective tissue of the body and involves a stronger touch.

Upledger’s fourth technique is position of release. This involves following the client’s body into the positions in which an injury occurred and holding it there. When the rhythm of the CSR suddenly stops the therapist knows that the trauma has been released.

The last technique is somatoemotional release. This technique was developed by Upledger and is an offshoot of craniosacral therapy. It is used to release the mind and body of the residual effects of trauma and injury that are “locked in the tissues.” This gentle approach is extremely safe. Craniosacral therapy does not preclude the use of other medical approaches.
More than forty scientific papers have been published that document the various effects of craniosacral therapy. There are also ten authoritative textbooks on this therapy. The most notable scientific papers include Viola M. Fryman’s work documenting the successful treatment of 1,250 newborn children with birth defects. Edna Lay and Stephen Blood showed the effects on TMD, and John Wood documented results with psychiatric disorders. The American Dental Association has found craniosacral therapy to be an effective adjunct to orthodontic work. However, the conventional medical community has not yet endorsed these techniques.

Upledger, John E. “CranioSacral Therapy.” In Clinician’s Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine, edited by Donald Novey. C.V. Moskey, St. Louis: 2000.
Milne Institute Inc. P.O. Box 2716, Monterey, CA 93942-2716.
Upledger Institute. 11211 Prosperity Farms Road, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410. (800) 233-5880. Fax: (561) 622-4771.
Milne, Hugh. A Client’s Introduction to Craniosacral Work. Pamphlet. Milne Institute.
gem() Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.


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