Alternative Therapies, Complementary Medicine, CranioSacral Therapy, Healthy & Wellness

A Brief History of Upledger CranioSacral Therapy

History of Upledger CranioSacral Therapy

Without the first innovators of CST would not have evolved into what is today considered to be a structured and highly valued form of therapy.

Dr Andrew Taylor Still

The evolution of CST is thanks to Andrew Taylor Still and his successive pioneers in this field.

Andrew Taylor Still is considered to be the father of osteopathy. Still studied and became a licensed medical doctor. During the American Civil War from 1861-1865, he served as a doctor in the Union Army, where he experienced the horror and suffering of war firsthand. In 1864 he lost three children to spinal meningitis and not long after that, he lost his wife during childbirth. This led him to decide that the orthodox medicine of that era was ineffective and often harmful. Practices often involved bleeding the body, amputation, and prescribing harmful medication such as arsenic, mercury and addictive opiates which were the standard treatments of his era. He dedicated the rest of his life to researching and finding more effective ways to treat diseases. Through his studies and observations, he concluded that the musculoskeletal system played a key role in maintaining the body’s health and that it held everything required to sustain good health if suitably treated. He developed osteopathy by devising a system of manipulation of the spinal bones to correct misalignments and dislocations which he viewed as barriers or blockages to the body’s innate healing ability. The removal of these blockages or barriers mainly resulted in the body healing itself. Through the correction of the blockages, trapped nerve impulses from injury or illness were freed which improved blood and lymph flow. Still is considered to be the founder of preventative medicine, he believed that physicians should treat the whole person rather than the disease. His methods were based on four elements:

  • The body works as a whole biological unit
  •  The body owns self-healing and self-regulatory means
  •  Structure and function are interconnected
  •  Irregular pressure in an area of the body results in irregular pressures and strains in other areas of the body

Still successfully used manual therapy only and he continued to believe that medication was harmful. He was the first physician to promote treating the patient as a whole and not a disease unit. He believed that an illness can be present in one part of the body without it affecting other areas of the body. He believed fluid movement to be very important.

Still was shunned by his former medical peers who thought orthodox medicine worked well and were unable to see why he had rejected it. The religious community were unable to understand his hands-on methods, claiming that it was the devil’s work. This resulted in him moving several times until he finally settled in Kirksville, Missouri, where he was able to restore the health of a local minister’s daughter. Following this he gained acceptance as a physician and teacher and became successful in his methods, and he was soon unable to cope with the large numbers requiring treatment.

In 1882 he founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri which is known today as A T Still University.

Still fought to keep drugs out of osteopathy but in 1917 they were introduced and a few years later osteopaths were required to take the same exams as medical doctors. In America, osteopathy has changed dramatically from Dr Still’s teachings. Although in Europe osteopathy remains today the same as Still original teachings.

Dr William Garner Sutherland

Dr William Garner Sutherland is considered to be the father of cranial osteopathy. Sutherland’s younger brother had a health issue that recovered following osteopathic treatment. This resulted in him enrolling in a two-year osteopathy course at the American College of Osteopathy, which he in 1900 he graduated from with honours. During his training he observed the bevelled edges of the sphenoid whilst examining a disarticulated skull, he associated the bevelled edges with the gills of fish, permitting respiration, and this observation was to be investigated by him at a later date.

In 1907 he started lecturing on health issues. Sutherland was taught that the bones of the cranium were fused in adolescence and incapable of movement. In 1924 he examined the twenty-two bones of the skull, convinced they were intended to move. To prove this theory he devised a helmet, which he was able to restrict individual cranial bones. He commenced a series of experiments on himself, monitoring the effects, he asked his wife to observe for any changes in his temperament that he may have missed. During his first experiment, he almost lost consciousness and release the pressure of the helmet. This resulted in the instantaneous feeling of warmth and movement of fluid along the dural tube and movement in the sacrum. He went on to repeat this experiment numerous times with identical results. He concluded that the cranial bones did move with the sacrum moving through the membranes connecting the cranium to the sacrum. Through his experiments, he developed the methods and techniques that his clinical practice is based on. He was able to achieve success in treating patients with these techniques.

He extended his research to children and newborn babies and restrictions that arise from the birthing process. Over the next few years there was little interest shown in his work by orthodox professionals, in 1939 he published his only book ‘The Cranial Bowl’ designed to attract interest from orthodox practitioners. This book gave the foundation for CST– ‘little or no force’.

In the 1940s Sutherland directed a course called the Cranial Field at the American School of Osteopathy. The success he had experienced treating the cranial bones was now being recognised by orthodox medical professionals who had become interested in learning his techniques. As the course’s popularity grew Sutherland had to train more lecturers to meet the demands of training.

Dr Harold Ives Magoun

Dr Harold Ives Magoun was one of Sutherland’s first students, who went on to promote and teach cranial osteopathy. He is the author of ‘osteopathy in the cranial field’, which is considered to be the Bible of Sutherland’s techniques. First published in 1951, it was endorsed by Sutherland and gives a clear understanding of Sutherland’s approach and was written to attract more orthodox osteopaths into this discipline. His book is still used by The American Cranial Academy and The Sutherland Teaching Foundation. In 1968 Dr John Upledger attended The American Cranial Academy to participate in a course taught by Dr Harold Magoun.

Dr John E Upledger

Dr John E Upledger is considered to be the father of CST. Upledger was an osteopathic physician and a professor in biomechanics. In 1968 he attended a course at The American Cranial Academy taught by Dr Harold Magoun, part of the course content was to palpate the motion of the cranial bones and sacrum through their connection with dural membranes. Through the lecture on Sutherland’s work, Upledger was taught to finely tune his palpation skills and trust what his hands were telling him.

It was in the early 1970s that Upledger’s interest in the craniosacral system began. Whilst assisting during neurology, he had to hold the dural tube still whilst a neurosurgeon tried to remove a calcified lump from a patient’s cervical spine operation, much to his frustration he was unable to hold the dural tube still, he observed that the dural tube had its rhythmic motion.

At the Faculty of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University between 1975-1983, Upledger headed a research team who were to investigate cranial bone movement in adults. These results went on to confirm Sutherland’s earlier work and Upledger was able to illustrate the existence of the craniosacral system. He went on to develop new techniques using the craniosacral system to resolve and aid health issues that were unresponsive to conventional treatments.

His research with autistic children found their cranial membranes to be tighter than non-autistic children. He utilised modified techniques to relieve the tension in the membranes, the effect of this would be an improvement in the child’s behaviour and emotional responses.

He went on to teach carers of children with severe forms of autism how to treat the child daily. From there he developed the ’10 step protocol’ course for parents to treat their children. Finding these techniques to be invaluable, he began training individuals from non-medical backgrounds who were holistic practitioners in other healing disciplines.

He found SomatoEmotional Release from being able to unlock and release emotional issues stored in the soft tissues that cause dysfunctions and physical symptoms and ailments.
In 1985 Upledger founded the Upledger Institute to allow practitioners and therapists to train in craniosacral techniques. The Upledger clinic was also founded the same year to provide treatment to clients suffering from chronic pain and dysfunctions and to continue his research. Later in 1987 he also founded the Upledger Foundation, a non-profitable organisation for the less fortunate, he used craniosacral techniques in Bioaquatics Exploration, Compassionate Touch Program and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vietnam Veterans.

Upledger’s work has been taught worldwide to over 100,000 practitioners in over 100 countries. He wrote numerous articles and many books that accompany his teachings.

Upledger taught the therapist to ‘listen with their hands’ and to ‘meld’ with the client, his practice was based on the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath ‘first do no harm’. He believed that anyone should be able to train in CST and that it should not be ‘owned’ by one single profession.

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