Trauma and CranioSacral Therapy
Trauma comes in many forms. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic at all to another. Trauma is a highly personalized experience that originates in the individual’s nervous system, not in the event itself.
Could trauma have occurred and not even be recognized by the traumatized individual? Absolutely.
Regardless of the cause, trauma can have damaging and long-lasting effects on our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. CranioSacral Therapy has emerged as a powerful tool for restoring health and vitality in traumatized individuals.
Types of Trauma
Psychological Trauma is the state of severe fright that we experience when confronted with a sudden, unexpected, potentially life-threatening event over which we have no control, and to which we are unable to respond effectively. This leads to feelings of intense fear and helplessness.
Physical Trauma occurs when we sustain a physical injury from an event like a car accident or a slip and fall. If the healing process does not restore proper tone and balance to the tissues of the body, what began as a purely physical injury, could eventually affect the tone and resilience of the nervous system. Physical Trauma is especially problematic when it occurs in an emotionally charged state.
Trauma from Prolonged Stress occurs over time, and its’ effects are much more insidious. Still, the result can be physiologically the same as the PTSD resulting from a sudden traumatic event. Removing the stressors is critical to healing. Unfortunately, that alone is often not enough to restore health.
Trauma from Environmental Toxins generally occurs through a heightened and prolonged activation of the immune system. This immune hyperactivation causes damaging inflammation throughout the body and can set the stage for autoimmunity. Identifying the trigger(s) can be tricky because they are often prevalent in our modern lives (i.e., detergents, perfumes, lotions, certain foods). Again, removing the triggers is important, but may not be enough to restore health.
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
The ANS regulates all the essential functions of our bodies, including our visceral system (the internal organs). The ANS operates automatically, without our control, and is the source of our survival responses.
The two branches of the ANS are the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. In many regards, they are mirror images of each other – controlling opposite physical and emotional reactions, depending on the external environment in which we perceive ourselves to be at any given moment. Our bodies should possess the resilience to move back and forth between these two states as needed freely.
Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
The PNS is generally active when we are in a healthy, calm state. It is the branch that is commonly referred to as “Rest and Digest.” It directs our body through all of the physiological processes that occur in a state of ease. These processes include things like digestion, tissue repair, hormone production, and sleep. The PNS is also critical in helping us to “reset” after a stressful event. It assists us in muscle relaxation, lowering heart rate, slowing and deepening breathing, normalizing blood flow, and reestablishing immune system regulation. The parasympathetic branch acts like a brake pedal for our nervous system. It helps us to relax, unwind, and ultimately discharge the arousal of sympathetic activation.
Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
The SNS gets our whole body ready for action. It regulates arousal. It is the branch that is commonly referred to as “Fight or Flight.” It increases activity during times of stress and arousal, whether positive or negative. It is active when we are alert, excited, or engaged in physical activity. It prepares us to meet emergencies and threats by increasing our heart rate/respiration/blood pressure, shifting blood away from our digestive system and skin towards our heart, lungs, and the muscles of our extremities, and dilating our pupils. The sympathetic branch acts like the gas pedal of our nervous system. It gives us energy for any action we plan, and it helps to prepare us for threats.
Healthy Nervous System Activation
A healthy nervous system allows us to quickly transition from a state of rest and ease to a state of heightened activation, ready to face the task at hand. This response has been critical to the survival of our species over millions of years.
Experiencing a sudden trauma or the effects of prolonged stress causes our system to contract as we innately adopt defensive postures. Breathing becomes quicker and shallower, our digestive systems shut down, and our thinking becomes unclear as we enter into ‘survival’ mode.
The key is that what goes up, must come down, which is what happens in a healthy nervous system response. The energy associated with the heightened level of activation is later discharged when no longer needed. The individual then returns to a normal resting state.
Traumatic Nervous System Activation
Trauma can cause an extreme activation of the nervous system that becomes chronic. The individual is unable to discharge the energy and complete the process causing the nervous system to become “stuck” in that state essentially. This causes an individual’s physiology to respond as if there is a constant threat present.
When there is extreme activation of the SNS (‘Fight or Flight’), the PNS kicks in like an emergency braking mechanism, which dramatically slows all body processes, resulting in the ‘Freeze’ response. This causes a superimposed shutdown over the hyperarousal of the SNS rather than the proper completion of the process, which is a discharge of energy.
Being stuck in a state of nervous system hyperactivation can show up in many different ways. Some of the most common include:
- Anxiety and Panic Attacks
- Chronic Pain
- Mood Disorders
- Migraines and Headaches
- GI Issues
- Hormone Imbalance
Click HERE to see a brief discussion about the benefits of CranioSacral Therapy on the Cleveland Clinic website.
CranioSacral Therapy and ANS Regulation
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a light-touch manual therapy that primarily focuses on releasing tensions and imbalances within the tissues of the body and restoring healthy tone and resilience to the Autonomic Nervous System.
Common factors that can cause abnormal tensions in the body and alter the nervous system’s function are as previously mentioned:
• Emotional Trauma
• Physical Trauma
• Prolonged stress (physical or emotional)
• Environmental Toxicity (i.e., chemicals, food intolerances, etc.)
CST uses light touch to examine the membranes and movements of the fluids in and around the central nervous system. However, changes in tone and restrictions in any of the body tissues can be problematic, so evaluations are not limited to axial regions. When tensions or imbalances are detected, they are gently released, allowing the body to find its way back to wholeness and fluidity.
The exact mechanism of action is not well understood, but CST has a profound regulating effect on the central nervous system. It moves the system from fixity/fixation to flow. As this physiologic change takes place, often a significant shift occurs in mental and emotional status through the connections of the limbic region and prefrontal cortex. People receiving CST report improvements in emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
During the treatment, some people experience different sensations. These may include:
- Feeling deep relaxation
- Falling asleep
- Recalling distant memories
- Seeing colors
- Sensing pulsations
- Feeling of floating
- Experiencing hot or cold sensations
- Spontaneous body movement
The clinical results from receiving CST vary greatly. Some patients experience almost immediate and miraculous effects, while others may not recognize a significant change. Based on many years of clinical experience, I believe that when a patient doesn’t experience significant change, it is often due to a lack of persistence, as some chronic conditions take much longer to resolve than others. I have been fortunate enough to see many “incurable” chronic conditions resolve within 8-12 visits.
Trauma can come in many forms. The effects of trauma can lead to a chronic hyperactivation of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). That altered state of function wreaks havoc on the mind and body of the individual over time. CranioSacral Therapy has emerged as a clinical powerhouse in the restoration of ANS function, leading to health and vitality.