Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Acupuncture Combined for Anxiety and Trauma

Bronwyn's picture

Syndrome clusters: it’s a phenomenon we see here at the clinic all the time. No one seems to have a good explanation, but somehow we all experience it: a specific condition will show up on our schedules in clusters. I’m seeing this in my own practice recently, as a matter of fact. In the past few weeks, half a dozen people have called the clinic looking for help with anxiety. This is not the first time I’ve seen this, especially since the treatment of anxiety, panic and depression with acupuncture is so effective. Either way, I’m getting the message: it’s time for an explanation of my approach to this, how the treatment  works for anxiety, and why you should give it a try.

Patients seek treatment with me for a variety of reasons, from pain, to fertility, to digestive complaints. However, regardless of their stated reason for the visit, stress and the resulting anxiety are always high on the list of reasons. It is perhaps the single most common complaint shared at initial consultation; most people come to me hoping to relieve some of the symptoms associated with stress.

Although everyone experiences this differently, in my observation the symptoms of anxiety are often experienced in the body. For example, digestive pain or discomfort, headaches, migraines, shoulder and back tension, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, panic, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and trouble sleeping, either falling asleep, or waking during the night.

Fight or Flight

When the body is in a state of sympathetic nervous response (fight or flight), this initiates a cascade of physiological processes: your pupils dilate, lungs dilate, heart rate excellerates, blood flow rushes to your muscles. This prepares your body to either run or flight for your life. It is an ancient mechanism, designed to ensure your continued survival. After the stressful period or event is over, your nervous system comes back into homeostasis. It should return to a state of parasympathetic stimulation, sometimes called “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”. However, this is not always the case. With anxiety and post traumatic stress, your nervous system can begin to interpret everyday experience as dangerous, which can trigger a stress response. Basically, this ancient mechanism responds inappropriately as though you were in danger long after the danger has passed.

Acupuncture and Cranio-Sacral Therapy for Anxiety and Stress

Acupuncture has the ability to stimulate the parasympathetics, thus dis-engaging this mechanism. It releases endorphins and gates-out pain signals. I have repeatedly seen patients leave the clinic with a deep sense of calm and wellbeing that lasts anywhere from hours to days. In my experience, the effect lasts longer after each subsequent visit.

The effect of acupuncture can be very powerful, but when I add the hands-on bodywork of Cranio-sacral therapy, the relief from anxiety can be quite profound. I have a good theory on why they work so well together: because acupuncture so thoroughly engages the parasympathetic nervous system, your body goes into a relaxed state as soon as the needles go in. In this place of stillness, the fascial system is more malleable, and thus more suggestible to subtle changes. Basically it puts your body into a healing state where real, deep change can occur. It’s an elegant, simple way to engage the fascia and guide your body back to homeostasis. Here’s a great case study to illustrate this point.  

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