Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Equine Cranialsacral Therapy 1

Think of a woo being promoted for humans, and it's a sure bet that there's someone (or a whole bunch of them) promoting it for horses as well. Such as CranioSacral Therapy.

Craniosacral Therapy (the human sort) argues that

Life expresses itself as motion. At a deep level of our physiological functioning all healthy, living tissues subtly "breathe" with the motion of life - a phenomenon that produces rhythmic impulses which can be palpated by sensitive hands.

The originator of this belief, Dr William Sutherland, believed that this "rhythm" was expressed through movement in cranial sutures.

He undertook many years of research during which he demonstrated the existence of this motion and eventually concluded it is essentially produced by the body's inherent life force, which he referred to as the "Breath of Life." Furthermore, Dr Sutherland discovered that the motion of cranial bones he first discovered is closely connected to subtle movements that involve a network of interrelated tissues and fluids at the core of the body; including cerebrospinal fluid (the 'sap in the tree'), the central nervous system, the membranes that surround the central nervous system and the sacrum.

He believed he could detect three separate rhythms (or "tides" as he preferred to call them): 8-12 cycles per minute, 2.5 cycles per minute and 1 cycle per 100 seconds.

The emphasis in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is to help resolve the trapped forces that underlie and govern patterns of disease and fragmentation in both body and mind. This involves the practitioner "listening through the hands" to the body's subtle rhythms and any patterns of inertia or congestion. Through the development of subtle palpatory skills the practitioner can read the story of the body, identify places where issues are held and then follow the natural priorities for healing as directed by the patient¹s own physiology. The intention of treatment is to facilitate the expression of the Breath of Life and so enhance the body's own self-healing and self-regulating capabilities.

This sort of magic woo (which doesn't treat anything but relies on "self-healing" yet which can cure all sorts of conditions) can be easily transferred to animals, including horses.

It is the palpation of the cranial wave that the practitioner tunes into. It is extremely beneficial with problems located in the TMJ area, head shaking, head traumas and other restrictions through the horse’s body. By releasing these restrictions in the cranial system, healthier function and optimal movement can return to the equine athlete's body. [...] Twists can happen in the dural tube that encases the spinal cord, similar to the twists that occur in a telephone cord. The body then ceases to function optimally, eventually affecting the horse's biomechanics, performance, behaviour and health. The practice of equine craniosacral work requires sensitive and exceedingly light finger pressure being placed at various positions on the horse’s body. These handholds are maintained for a period of time during which the horse starts to relax and release tensions that are being held onto by it.

Regardless of which site you go to, they all seem to be copying from the same song sheet:

The head connects to the hind end through the spine, spinal cord and dural tube. The dural tube is a protective sheath that encases and protects the spinal cord. Over time, an injury to the hind end can effect the head and an injury to the head can effect the hind end. Twists can happen in the dural tube which encases the spinal cord, similar to the twists that occur in a telephone cord. The body then ceases to function optimally, eventually effecting the horse's biomechanics, performance, behavior and health. The practice of equine craniosacral work requires sensitive and exceedingly light finger pressure. When an injury or trauma occurs, it gets 'stuck' in the tissue of the horse's body and is stored in the tissue's cell memory until released.

Maureen Rogers (who modestly describes herself as a "pioneer") is an equine craniosacral practitioner who is heavily promoting this woo in EoR's home state.

Equine Craniosacral work is a holistic healing practice, which uses extremely light finger pressure to optimise body movement. When applied correctly, this gentle and subtle technique can be highly effective in addressing a number of conditions in the horse. These conditions include : TMJ(D)-temporomandibular joint dysfunction, head, spinal and hind end injuries and traumas, emotional problems, facial nerve paralysis, lameness, tinnitus(ringing in the ears), blocked tear ducts, castration, cribbing, and many others.

EoR wonders how you assess tinnitus in a horse, or how gentle pressure on the skull resolves castration (quite apart from the fact that there's no direct connection between the skull and scrotum, do the testicles grow back?).

Ms Rogers has published an article on Craniosacral Therapy in hoofbeats (though that's hardly a reputable journal any more, and it's accompanied by a halfpage advertisement for Ms Roger's courses and DVD) which basically repeats the same information on her (and others') websites, including the unwinding phone cord analogy. Information such as:

CranioSacral work traditionally specialized in the head, spine, and sacrum, but it is not limited to those areas, nor is it limited to the physical.

Not only can she manipulate the nonphysical, her physical skills are the equivalent of some very precise expensive measuring equipment, with practitioners able to feel variations (remember, this is in a living, breathing, moving animal) down to 0.04mm:

The measurable amplitude of the cranial wave (a discreet, muscular pulsation delivered by the cranial bone) is between 40 microns to 1.5 mm.

Even detecting the upper limit of 1.5mm in an animal that is notoriously difficult to get to stand absolutely rock still is an amazing feat.

She also states the common altie lie of signs the magic du jour is working. The horse demonstrates that the magic is "taking" by showing the following indications:

may be licking and chewing, yawning, lowering of the head, shifting the weight around on the back feet, stomach gurgling, a change in the breath as in a deep sigh, and softening of the eyes and ears.

Just about every horse standing around for any time, even if left alone totally (ie no "intervention" of any sort, no matter how noninvasive or gentle) will show exactly these signs. They are normal physiological signs in any horse. They are not proof of magic energy meridians being realigned and selfhealing, except in the delusional mindset of the believers.

Ms Rogers is willing to teach you how to do it yourself which only takes 16 days in total. You will learn about things such as tissue unwinding in the legs, bone energetics, palpitation of spirit and the various forms of energy work.

Most of EoR's readers by now are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. They would be in good company. William T Jarvis, PhD, points out:

The entire field of scientific neurophysiology, with all of its high-tech instrument, has not yet observed the fundamental rhythm, but cranial osteopaths can feel the small pulsations of the skull with their finger tips.

The Skeptic's Dictionary states:

When tested, several therapists were unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm.

Quackwatch points out:

In 2002, two basic science professors at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine concluded:

Our own and previously published findings suggest that the proposed mechanism for cranial osteopathy is invalid and that interexaminer (and, therefore, diagnostic) reliability is approximately zero. Since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies have been published, we conclude that cranial osteopathy should be removed from curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.

Finally, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment has conducted a Systematic Review and Critical Appraisal of the Scientific Evidence on Craniosacral Therapy. The overall conclusions are:

This systematic review and critical appraisal did not find valid scientific evidence that craniosacral therapy provides a benefit to patients. Research methods are available which could conclusively evaluate craniosacral therapy effectiveness. They have not been used to date. The available health outcome research consists of low grade of evidence derived from weak study designs. Studies conducted in the 1970s reporting acceptable interrater reliability scores for assessment measures used by craniosacral therapy practitioners have not been verified by more recent research using stronger study protocols. This casts doubt on the existence of the underlying phenomenon being measured, or on practitioners’ ability to measure it. Adverse events have been reported in head-injured patients following craniosacral therapy.

Of course, like any altie woo, believers, by definition, want to believe. They want to believe that the magic works. They want to believe that they care for their animals. Facts are the last thing they want to hear, since they are so often destructive of their misplaced and incorrect beliefs. But at least they'd have more money to spend on real therapies.

Craniosacral Therapy page at Evidence Based Medicine First.


  1. In all my years (more than 30, now) as a professional in the horse industry, mostly dressage, I've never heard discussion of TMJ disorder (dysfunction) in horses. It's possible that it's a legitimate issue, but c'mon. These cranialsacral therapy guys pick up the woo and transfer it with no adjustments from one species to the next. I'm surprised they don't claim it cures nausea and vomiting in horses!

  2. It's funny you should mention TMJ - Part 2 of this post (which should appear tomorrow) is all about TMJ.


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