Craniosacral Therapy — Sensory Processing Disorder in Children or Adults


Sensory processing disorder, or sensory integration dysfunction, is often “diagnosed” in early childhood.  However, its effects may last into adulthood.

This condition manifests as responses to outside stimuli, such as touch, sounds, smells, light, vibrations,  or  interactions with others that appear inappropriate or out of line with the norms set by society.

Children and adults with a sensory processing disorder are extremely sensitive to their environment.

Children or adults with this condition appear to be interpreting events differently than most other individuals, and respond to them with heightened anxiety, screaming, crying, or aggression, even physical acting out.  Commands or requests may be misunderstood or ignored all together.  Children may also experience difficulty in meeting various milestones of physical, emotional, or social development.  Thus, a child or adult with sensory processing  difficulties may

  • overreact to or ignore touch, sounds, smells, light, or other stimuli
  • appear to be belligerent, out of control, unresponsive, overly anxious, overly aggressive, or depressed
  • have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, responding to commands, or focusing on a task
  • interact with others in a socially inappropriate manner such as being too affectionate, not tolerating affection
  • be extremely fearful of the environment, crowds, unexpected events, new foods or activities, of falling, getting hurt, etc
  • have balance issues and appear clumsy

In effect, outside stimuli are received, transmitted to the brain, processed by the brain, and relayed back in the form of responses  that make it difficult for a child or adult to harmoniously interact with other people and the environment.  The central system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) are not playing well together for poorly understood reasons.

Craniosacral therapy offers relief for children and adults with sensory processing difficulties.

The theory behind Craniosacral Therapy offers an explanation that would allow us to better wrap our minds and hearts around this condition.  Moreover, craniosacral therapy has the potential to help the body correct the causes of the sensory processing disorder in children and adults.

Since craniosacral therapy does its magic by helping the body to release restrictions in the body that may be transmitted to the central nervous system (CNS) via the membrane system that envelops the CNS as one unit, it will help to spend a little time on the structures involved.

The brain is our processing unit and command center, while the spinal cord is the highway of our nervous system.

The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is enveloped by a three-layered membrane system (meninges) that protects it and contains the cerebral spinal fluid, which buffers the brain, like a shock absorber, provides nutrients to the nerve tissue that is the brain and spinal cord, and removes metabolic as well as foreign toxins. Read more…

The extensions of the brain are the cranial nerves, and those of the spinal cord are the spinal nerves.  They are considered part of the peripheral nervous system.

The cranial nerves allow us to make sense of our environment via sight, hearing, smell, and taste.

The twelve cranial nerves exit the skull through openings in the cranial base and travel to the organs that they innervate, such as the eyes (sight and eye movement), ears (hearing and balance), tongue (taste, suckling, swallow, speech), teeth, muscles of mastication (chewing, opening and closing the mouth), nose (smell), larynx (sound production, the skin of the face, and two muscles (sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles) to move the head and raise the shoulders.  Moreover, the 10th cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, innervates the heart, lungs, and digestive organs to support a regular heart beat, normal breathing, and digestion for the assimilation of nutrients and peristalsis for regular bowel movements.

The spinal nerves allow us to exercise our will through movements, small and large.

The spinal nerves innervate the skeletal muscles, the skin mainly from the neck down, as well as all the inner organs.

The cranial and spinal nerves receive information (stimuli) from the outside world and relay it back to the brain either directly (cranial nerves) or via the spinal cord (spinal nerves).  The brain interprets this information and sends commands back via the spinal cord (the highway of the nervous system), or directly, to cranial nerves in response to these stimuli.

Sensory processing requires harmonious interplay between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

Sensory processing thus depends on several players: the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system, and the cranial and spinal nerves of the peripheral nervous system.

If the brain is impaired (tumors, trauma,  illness, legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, and malnutrition, the responses to stimuli will be inadequate, too much, or even nonsensical.

If the spinal cord is injured or impaired (tumor, trauma, infections, muscular tension, vertebral subluxation, disc degeneration or rupture, narrowing of the vertebral canal), the relay of messages from the peripheral nervous system to the brain, and the relay of commands from the brain to the peripheral nervous system will be inadequate, too much, or confused.

If the cranial nerves or the spinal nerves are impaired or irritated (tumors, trauma, illness, muscular tension), the information is relayed back to the brain in an incomplete or erratic fashion, and the brain will also issue commands that are inadequate, too much, or nonsensical.

The fact that the sensory processing disorder begins to manifest during early childhood suggests that birth trauma, or trauma during infancy and the toddler years, may be important contributors to this condition.  However, even in adulthood, trauma to the head or severe whiplash to the spine may create tension on the membrane system that covers the brain and spinal cord resulting in sensory processing difficulties of some kind.

Childbirth sets the stage for our ability to thrive.

Childbirth is no doubt a violent event for the mother and the baby, as evidenced by the bruised and swollen faces of many babies, as well as their misshapen heads.

Assisted birthing devices such as the ventouse (suction cup) and the forceps, while sometimes life saving, add another level to the violent nature of birth.

Pulling the baby out by the arm puts excess traction on the brachial plexus, the nerves that exit between the lower neck (cervical) vertebrae, and innervate the arm, as well as some of the shoulder and back muscles.

A C-section, on the other hand, doesn’t give the baby the benefit of a  “massage of natural child birth”, such as compression of the lungs to expel excess fluid and stimulate the breathing diaphragm, and to mobilize the entire spine.

External healing with internal scars.

While the baby’s head usually returns to a normal shape, and the bruises and swelling disappear, the effects of this event may be trapped in the connective tissues of the head and face, particularly the membranes (meninges) that encase the brain and the spinal cord as one unit, and the sutures between the head and facial bones.  While we see a normal looking head and a lovely baby face, we do not see how things look inside the head.

As the head resumes its normal shape, the head (cranial) bones may get stuck in a slightly “off” position, trapping, stretching, pressing on, the cranial nerves that exit the cranial base.  This irritates the nerves, impairing their function and resulting in numerous signs and symptoms, so often observed in infants, such as:

  • fussiness, excessive crying (baby isn’t feeling well in its body, may have headaches)
  • difficulty nursing (difficulty latching onto the nipple and swallowing)
  • colics (digestive difficulties, intestinal cramps, flatulence)
  • difficulty with sleep
  • difficulty focusing on a person or object (vision)
  • eye movement disorders (weakness of one or more muscles that move the eye)
  • difficulty locating sounds (hearing)
  • balance issues (inner ear canal: vestibular nerve)

Traction, distortion, stretching, or compression of the spinal nerves may occur during birth trauma as well.  All the activities that naturally occur during infancy and toddler years while the child is learning to use its body will help to realign the spine and establish the neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar) curves.

Birth trauma may have lifelong consequences.

However, some of the birth trauma may become trapped in the connective tissues (ligaments) of the spine, and interfere with complete recovery.  The muscles receive mixed signals from the irritated spinal nerves and may respond with tightening along the spine, as the connective tissue of the muscles (fascia) “shrink wraps” around the tight muscles, holding the tension in place.  The muscles may respond with weakness and asymmetric motion.  Some of the signs and symptoms may be:

  • uncoordinated movements
  • head consistently tilting to one side or the other
  • the upper body tilting to one side or the other
  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty lifting and holding up the head
  • difficulty rolling over
  • difficulty sitting up unassisted
  • difficulty crawling
  • lateness in standing up or walking (weakness, restrictions in low back and sacrum)
  • clumsy movement (balance issues, coordination issues)
  • tendency to fall or trip (balance issues, coordination issues)
  • constant fidgeting (may be uncomfortable at rest)
  • difficulty laying or sitting still (may be uncomfortable at rest)
  • difficulty with bowel movements as the lumbar curve is trying to establish itself around 6 months of age

The trauma to the head during birth, especially difficult births after extended labor, excessive pushing during labor, or intensified contractions from the use of pitosin to restart labor after an epidural, all may bruise the brain as the cranial bones are sustaining too much pressure for too long a time, while in the birth canal.

Bruised brain — bruised life experience

A bruised brain is bruised nerve tissue.  Depending on the amount of bruising, the brain’s ability to relay messages and issue appropriate commands may also be impaired.  It’s no wonder that babies sleep so much during the day as well as the night.  They have so much healing to do.

In summary, any kind of sensory processing difficulty may be a child’s way of telling us that he/she has not yet recovered from the trauma of birth, a fall or bump to the head (so common in early childhood), or trauma to the spine.  The cranial and spinal nerves need help to recover from this trauma in order to properly relay information from the outside world to the brain, and to properly receive orders back from the brain.

Craniosacral therapy can help the body to heal from birth trauma.

Craniosacral therapy and energetic unwinding of the spine, joints, and muscles will help the body to release tensions held in the connective tissue that holds together, and creates compartments, for all structures of the body, down to the cellular level.

Releasing these tensions and restrictions (akin to snags in your stockings) will free up the cranial and spinal nerves to do what they are designed to do.  The result will be a baby that is much more in tune with, and comfortable in, his/her body, and thus able to better handle all the many challenges that will come to him/her throughout life.

Craniosacral therapy and energetic unwinding are two exceedingly gentle, non-invasive therapies that will help the body to heal from the strains of any kind of trauma, acute or chronic.