Karen (name changed) was a 42 year old woman who complained of pain, fatigue, and emotional stress that had persisted for the last 13 years. Formerly an active woman who had headed her children’s school organizations and described herself as Type A personality- always on the go, looking for a better solution, very self critical and a perfectionist, with a career as a marketing coordinator and three children, Karen found herself at a point where she was no longer able to keep up with her lifestyle.
Fifteen years ago, Karen’s life had changed. Her husband asked for a divorce and she had accepted a promotion at work that made her lifestyle even busier than it was. Suddenly a single mom Karen found herself exhausted on the weekends her husband had visitation, barely leaving her couch until her children came back on Sunday evenings. Over the course of the next few years her sleep gradually deteriorated, she started not waking feeling rested no matter how much sleep she got, and her fatigue and muscle pain gradually increased to the point that she had to go part-time at work. Going to a slew of doctors, Karen found herself with a full medicine cabinet of pharmaceuticals that didn’t help her symptoms- antidepressants, sleep medications, muscle relaxants, nerve blockers. She was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and when she complained that her symptoms were not improving with the medication, she was sent to a therapist. Luckily, the therapist suggested CranioSacral Therapy (CST), and Karen found herself in my office thirteen years after her symptoms first began.
When I spoke to Karen and evaluated her in my office, I noticed that she had extremely dark circles under her eyes and she spoke quietly. She went into my office, lying down onto my massage table clothed. When I placed my hands on her to evaluate, using gentle touch, I could sense that her system was very “on”- meaning that “fight or flight”- her sympathetic nervous system, was constantly firing and in a state where her body was constantly in a state of alarm and vigilance. Basically, it was as if her body had not known rest for a very long time. Evaluating further through gentle touch and traction of the superficial tissues of the body, I was brought to notice that Karen had significant digestive upset, her low back was very tight, and her upper neck, shoulders, and the back of her head felt extremely tense.
Karen and I worked together for two months, once a week, and during that time our sessions followed what many of my treatments look like for Fibromyalgia patients. First, we worked to get her nervous system to calm down and get her body to a state of rest. This state of rest allowed for her body to continue working after the appointment to process some of the pain signals and other body signals that had been backed up, allowing her pain to gradually decrease, her sleep to improve, and her digestion to start properly working again. Then we worked gently with Imagery and Dialogue, where we talked to her body and allowed for her to see what it needed to heal and what emotions it had stored. Then gently I worked with the specific parts of the body that I noticed that were out of balance through gentle traction, decompression, and simply by bringing my hands and attention gently to a body part. Gradually her body recognized that her low back, upper back and neck, and the back of the head needed releasing and started softening, lengthening, and opening without me using any force and at the rate Karen could handle releasing the tissues. And finally, I taught her some simple meditations to do at home to release her physical body, process her emotions, and calm her thoughts.
Karen still comes to see me every other week to assist with her ongoing healing, but she is now able to work full time and takes a pain killer only when she absolutely needs to (on average about once every six months). Her sleep has improved, her digestion has normalized, and she is able to relax and rest. She is off all other medications and during a flare-up she only has very mild back pain and a mild headache.
So why does CranioSacral work so well for Fibromyalgia? It is a extremely gentle practice focused on awareness. During a session I will either simply place my hands on various places in the body or will use gentle massage, traction, gentle adjustments, and very light pressure to work with the tissues, fluids, bones, and organs of the body. CranioSacral Therapy doesn’t force anything, which is key for Fibromyalgia patients, and works with the body, the way it wants to move and at the level and depth it wants to be touched. CST also benefits by getting the patient into a parasympathetic, “rest and digest” state of deep stillness, rest, and relaxation. When you body is no longer constantly “on” it can then begin to process all of the signals that are backed up in your body- signals like pain, fatigue, and overwhelm. By processing these signals and switching to an “off” state, the body will be in less pain, will be able to relax, and sleep can improve.
Where does Imagery and Dialogue fit in? When emotions are not processed, they stay in the body, eventually presenting as physical pain, discomfort, or can contribute to a whole host of imbalances in the body. Every illness has an emotional component, especially illnesses that are difficult to treat through Western Medicine, are serious, long-lasting or have the patient questioning their mortality. Potentially any imbalance or illness, no matter how long or serious it is, can be worked with through Imagery and Dialogue. In a session, areas of the body that are in discomfort are felt into by the patient. As the patient brings focus and attention to the part of the body, they will begin describing it, both how it feels physically, any images that come up about it, and any emotions that come up. We then can begin asking the body questions, such as if it needs anything, what it would need to feel better, or if it has anything to bring to the attention of the person on the table. Frequently, the body has a lot to say and quite a bit to talk about! When we dialogue and understand what the body may need or want, and what physical issues and emotions may be stored there, the body now has a change to release the emotional component, and thereby, some of the physical component of the issue. It is shocking how often this is the missing piece of healing for patients, and how simple the body’s needs and wants are.
I would encourage anyone with Fibromyalgia to give three or more sessions of CranioSacral Therapy a try. This will give you enough time to connect with your therapist, find out if the modality is right for you, and should allow you to start seeing some changes in your condition. So many times I have worked with Fibro patients who have started to get their lives gradually back and come alive again through CST treatments. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or google practitioners in your area who have Advanced training and experience with Fibromyalgia through the Upledger Institute, or have completed the Biodynamic CranioSacral or Visionary CranioSacral 1-2 year programs.