William Sutherland’s Discovery

“Where there is structure, there is function”

The story of craniosacral therapy begins with the very important discovery by Dr. William Garner Sutherland, D.O. in the early 1900’s that the bones of the skull retain some movement throughout a person’s lifetime.

Dr. Sutherland had become fascinated with anatomy, especially the skull, leading him to spend innumerable hours dissecting and examining every aspect of the human head.

Noticing the unique way in which the various skull bones articulated with one another, he was reminded of the saying:  Where there is structure, there is function.  If the edges of the bones where they came together differed in shape, there must be a reason for it.

It appeared to him that the edges were designed to allow movement of two skull bones abutting each other just like the many bones in the body that move around a joint.

William Sutherland: Our skull bones are constantly shifting

One day, it dawned on Dr. Sutherland that so far he’d only examined skulls of cadavers.  What if the sutures remained alive until death and only then became rigidly joined?  To test this theory, he designed a leather helmet with the sutures of a skull and adjusted the helmet periodically along the sutures after wearing it for a while.  He discovered that the pressures imparted on his head created symptoms such as headaches, vision changes, nausea, mood changes, decreased mental functions, among others.

If the human skull truly were rigid during a person’s lifetime, then the various pressures by the helmet should not have affected him at all.  The fact that he experienced symptoms told him, that his skull bones were shifting to accommodate the pressures but with ill effects on his physical and mental wellbeing.

In the early 1990’s, the medical establishment finally accepted William Sutherland’s theory that the cranial bones do not fuse together along the suture lines until after death.

The birth of cranial osteopathy followed by craniosacral therapy.

Since Dr. Sutherland was a practicing osteopath, he realized the importance of freely moving head bones.  He also was well trained in the release of restrictions anywhere in the body, safe the cranium.  Consequently, he devoted himself to developing osteopathic release techniques specifically designed to release cranial bones.  He called this therapy cranial osteopathy, an extension of the osteopathic techniques that he had learned from his teacher, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still.

Some 30 years later, Dr. John E. Upledger, also a practicing osteopath, developed his own therapy, which contains the elements of cranial osteopathy, and called it craniosacral therapy.

My next post explores why our skull bones shift.