Craniosacral therapy is a very safe and gentle manual therapy that works on the central nervous system and the connective tissue called “fascia.” The light touch technique is used to help stimulate the body’s own healing properties along with lessening the restrictions found in the nervous system. It works primarily on the central and autonomic nervous systems, and has been proven to help calm and rebalance these systems, especially in the horse.
The central nervous system (CNS) of the body is the “computer network system” that controls every aspect of what happens in the body. It is a very complex system that consists of the brain, cranial nerves, spinal cord, and all the nerves that run off the spinal cord into the body. These components not only tell the body what to do, but also process the information the body sends back to the brain. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that this system of the body works at full capacity.
The intricate and delicate system is protected by the craniosacral system, which consists of the skull/ cranial vault, cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacral/coccygeal spine, and the pelvis. Running through and around all these bony structures is the fascia, which also extends throughout the body into the extremities and the body cavities. Through this craniosacral therapy can help keep the CNS running smoothly by removing restrictions to the motion that is found within this system.
Aly Rattazzi, Rather Be Riding Photography
The craniosacral motion, or rhythm, is hard to feel on palpation, but much like a heartbeat, it can be felt and measured. This rhythm is part of what moves the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the brain and spinal cord. This faint motion comes from the extension and flexion of the spine and bones of the skull. When this rhythm is disturbed and not able to move fully it can cause a domino effect through the rest of the chain, which in turn can affect the CNS.
Craniosacral therapy aims to use light manual touch to restore this cranial rhythm and also affect the nervous system at its core in the brain and nerves. The most important nerves are the cranial nerves that originate from the brain and either enter or exit the skull through small openings called foramen. There are 12 nerves in total and help control everything from sensory organs to facial muscles to the digestive tract. So these nerves are very important to consider when looking at a horse using craniosacral therapy.
The therapy itself is very non-invasive and employs a light touch that most horses really enjoy. The aim is to increase the activity in the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” part of the nervous system and decrease activity in the sympathetic or “fight or flight” part. It is through this process that the body can allow healing to occur and relieve internal stressors. The CST itself opens up restrictions in the fascial planes and restores motion to the cranial bones allowing the body to rebalance and restore normal function to the nervous system.
The uses for craniosacral therapy are limitless. Owners can see great benefits in using it on healthy, working horses to keep them feeling their best. But it also very beneficial to horses who have performance issues, behavior problems, chronic pain, chronic medical conditions, and many other conditions. Before using craniosacral therapy for horses with any medical issues, first make sure a veterinarian has evaluated the horse and approved them for manual therapies.
An example of one case where craniosacral therapy was beneficial to help a horse return to a normal balanced state was a gelding who had been diagnosed and treated for EPM. This middle-aged Quarter Horse gelding had been evaluated by a veterinarian and given an appropriate treatment plan after a positive diagnosis was made with bloodwork. The horse recovered from the EPM and passed all neurologic exams, clearing him to return to work. But the owner felt the gelding was still not himself under saddle and that his normal attitude and personality were still affected. The owner called me in to look at her gelding as she felt that bodywork could benefit her horse. During his first session I discovered the cranial bones surrounding the brain were restricted and not able to move in the cranial rhythm. I also found that the fascia surrounding the spinal cord had adhesions along the length of the spine, which was putting a strain on the sacrum and brain itself. After a couple of sessions to address these issues the owner noted the gelding was back to loving his job and his mischievous personality had returned.
Craniosacral therapy can be a great addition to any horse’s health routine and works well alongside other therapies like massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture. With its unique approach of working with the nervous system, craniosacral therapy can give owners invaluable feedback about how their horse is feeling physically. With that information the owner can find the best route to making sure their horses live long, healthy, and balanced lives.
Aly Rattazzi, Rather Be Riding Photography
Amanda Moretz LMT, EM/MT, RVT is an equine bodyworker based out of Atlanta, GA and works throughout the southeast seeing her equine and human clients. Starting her career as a Licensed Veterinary Technician, Amanda found her way in 2009 to the world of equine massage/bodywork. Since then she has become licensed as a human therapist, and also is pursuing her certification as an equine craniosacral therapist with Dr. Sandi Howlett with the Upledger Institute. Amanda works alongside other horse professionals and owners seeing horses in multiple southern states, but also teaches clinics to owners on massage and the anatomy of the horse. To learn more about Amanda and her work please visit www.amandamoretzbodywork.com