Cranio-sacral therapy for babies
May 17, 2014 8:33 AM   Subscribe

My son is four months old and has a couple of health issues. The physical therapist who sees him has been strongly and repeatedly recommending a practitioner who does cranio-sacral massage and myofasial release, but I'm nervous and confused!

My son is four months old. He has congenital torticollis (tightness in his neck) and tightness down that whole side of his body. He also has congenital plagiocephaly (flat head). He is a got kinda cramped in there for him! He does physical therapy for his tortcollis. He also has reflux and is on medication for that, which has helped a TON.
The physical therapist he sees has been recommending cranio-sacral massage and myofascial release for him. She says she has worked with a lot of kids with similar issues as my son and that they have seen great benefits from this type of massage and from seeing this particular practitioner she is recommending. After significant internal debate, I decided to book an appointment.
Now that the appointment is booked, I'm starting to feel even more nervous about it however. I asked the practitioner lots of questions and she assured me of the safety of it. She says it is very gentle, but I still feel anxious!
Part of the issue is that I know next to nothing about massage and I'm uncomfortable stepping outside the medical model.
My fears are two fold. (1) This is going to hurt him, rather than help him. He is making lots of progress with physical therapy and the reflux medication works great. He used to be so uncomfortable all the time, and he is doing so much better now. I don't want to lose that or hurt him in any way.
(2) This is going to be totally ineffective. She is recommending three sessions at $42 per session. We are a single income family, so this is a significant expense to us, but I'm willing to pay it if it helps him.

So, are my fears grounded in any kind of reality? Have you had experience with this type of massage? What is the likelihood this type of massage could be helpful/harmful to him?
Thank you.
posted by honeyx to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about cranio-sacral massage, but if I were you, I would ask a trusted pediatrician for their opinion.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:41 AM on May 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ask a pediatrician. I don't think there's any evidence for craniosacral therapy for infants, and I know there's at least one reported infant death after treatment.
posted by yarly at 8:43 AM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ok, I just sent off a message to our pediatrician well. I'd still be happy to hear more thoughts from mefites, in case he doesn't have a lot of familiarity with this specific topic!
posted by honeyx at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really like having cranio-sacral massage done as an adult, as I chronically hold tightness in my neck. It feels like this amazing experience of being held and a radiating sense of well being. Basically it's a really subtle massaging of the neck and scalp. However, I have no idea about its indication for infants. I would definitely talk to my pediatrician and probably do some of my own research.
posted by amileighs at 8:57 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

CSM is psuedo-science. The benefits are purely placebo. I'm guessing if your baby experienced any relief from it, it would be from the general comfort that comes from extended human touch. I would strongly recommend against allowing anyone to manipulate your baby's head and neck area as the soft plates of the skull are still developing and extremely delicate. There are plenty of chiropractors who have paralyzed and even killed infants via chiropractic manipulation and many hospitals now ban them from pediatrics wards for that reason. Please seek multiple opinions from pediatricians, not just your physical therapist.
posted by schroedinger at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

I just asked my partner, who is a pediatrician, and he felt that it was not a good idea.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:41 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts:

Is this person certified specifically for kids?

Can you talk to some of the parents whose kids have supposedly benefitted from this therapy? References!
posted by Dansaman at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2014

My four-month-old had a medical procedure done a few months ago (lip and tongue tie laser surgery) for which CST is often recommended as part of the aftercare. I generally don't believe in chiropractic and it seems especially shady for children. I chose to forgo it, and my daughter healed fine using other treatments--namely tylenol.

I thought that it was interesting that the pediatric dentist who performed the procedure referenced CST very carefully in the aftercare instructions: "Some parents chose to utilize chiropractic care and cranio-sacral therapy for their children." There was no note of the efficacy. I suspect because there isn't any.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2014

My ex taking my son to a CSM practice greatly helped my fight for custody.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:18 AM on May 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

I had myofascial release therapy when me leg was left tight, in constant pain and with reduced mobility after recovering from an accident.

My research showed that no one has proven its effectiveness, and that in the UK it is not allowed to claim it has any health effects.

I talked about this with the therapist, and he agreed that the theory behind it was sketchy, but at least I would be getting human touch, the motivation to work on my mobility, and help with stretching and flexibility. Insurance covered it so I went ahead. It seemed to help a lot.

Now, it was pretty painful, and I was in constant communication with the therapist. I can not imagine doing this effectively on a fourth month old.

I would ask my pediatrician. My daughter had bad reflux for the first 3 months, and would get so tense and wound up from crying she had a hard time falling asleep. The pediatrician recommended giving her a light massage with massage oil, and that helped her relax and sleep better.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 10:24 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I researched this for my daughter at about that age for severe reflux and was terrified by what I found. It's not proven to be effective, there is no governing certification-providing board and there have been documented cases of infant death resulting from craniosacral therapy. Ask your pediatrician (ours strongly advised against it), but more importantly listen to your parental instinct. You sound uncomfortable with this. Pay close attention to that.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have a close family member who is a physical therapist and also does quite a bit of CST and other similar treatments. My siblings and I were used as guinea pigs A LOT growing up, and my family member continues to treat other children and babies on a semi-regular basis. CST, in my experience, has been very gentle, basically to the point of effectively nothing, and her patients seem to like it. Personally, I have serious reservations about its efficacy, not because I've ever felt like it was dangerous, but because it's never done a thing for me or my siblings, despite all earnest insistence to the contrary. In general, her actual patients come away showing improvement, but she also has experience with a variety of techniques, her bedside manner is hugely reassuring, particularly to concerned parents, and the placebo effect is definitely a thing. My two cents, CST isn't worth it.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2014

One thing I would worry about at that age is that babies can't communicate very well if something is hurting or off. I felt better about a range of experiences for my child once she could talk and tell me if she was hurting or scared.
posted by amanda at 10:48 AM on May 17, 2014

I was also born with torticullis. I did "exercises" as a kid for years and it helped a ton- I look normal unless you really pay attention and had no scoliosis issues.

I also get myofascial release regularly as an adult and it's enormously helpful to me. I have a genuine connective tissue issue and it does help. It is usually painful but it really depends on the person doing it. I can't envision how you would work on an infant at all though, since the variety I get is pretty hands on, deep tissue stuff. It would make me nervous too but if you could see it and know it wasn't going to hurt him it might be useful.

I've never heard of Cranio whatever therapy, no one has ever offered that to me and I get offered everything, so for what that's worth! I would be very nervous about an infant's skull plus chiro too. I personally wouldn't do that probably.

If you do ever decide to get this done for your kid when theyre older I recommend finding an osteopath, not a chiro. They are "real" doctors so it's a lot safer. The one I go to works with a lot of elite athletes, but also runs a small family practice, for example.

From my experience, down the road your kid is going to need some kind of soft tissue/ massage work to manage this condition if they're physically active. I've tried it all and myofascial release and hot yoga are my go-to's.
posted by fshgrl at 1:52 PM on May 17, 2014

Honestly, it's nonsense woo - nonsense woo that can be dangerous. If a PT even suggested this for my daughter, I would be wondering what other questionably treatments they would recommend for my kid, and looking for a different PT that believes in evidence-based medicine stat.
posted by smoke at 4:09 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Watch a session for yourself. It seems very...fishy.
posted by inturnaround at 4:39 PM on May 17, 2014

That's crappy of your PT to insist, but true believers often push past refusal and if she's a great PT otherwise, cancel the appointment and blame your pediatrician. There are better safer ways to spend your money on your son. When my kid was very sick, a well intentioned friend kept pushing herbal remedies on us. We accepted and said we'd check with our doctor and quietly never used them. What she wanted was to express her concern and help, and thanking her made the difference.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2014

Honestly, it's nonsense woo - nonsense woo that can be dangerous.

Myofascial release isn't woo, it's massage pretty much, except it's not based on your muscles but on your other tissues. Its really common in sports medicine these days. Ever rubbed your IT band or used a foam roller? That's it, except its generally done by someone else. And it hurts like a mofo, which is why it seems weird you could do it on an infant.

The Cranial therapy looks weird and I'd avoid a practitioner who did that because I'd question their judgement.
posted by fshgrl at 6:04 PM on May 17, 2014

From your description, I would also consider finding a different physical therapist.
posted by lalex at 8:36 PM on May 17, 2014

My little guy also had congenital torticollus and plagiocephaly diagnosed at 4 months. The torticollus resolved pretty well with PT (neck stretches done 5x day), although we find that growth spurts will bring it back again. I did choose to take him for CST starting around 7 months of age. We had initial appointments with 4 or 5 different practitioners. The "therapy" he received with the chosen practitioner was nothing more than gentle touch. I viewed it with a great deal of scepticism and mostly saw it as entertaining (and expensive) woo. All the same, the practitioner was a lovely person who had a very calming energy about her; we both enjoyed visiting with her and left feeling refreshed. I felt (this could be confirmation bias though) that my son seemed more "even" after his visits -- the affected side of his face would move more like the unaffected side, and he would have more range of motion in the neck. He seemed to sleep better and have a little less difficulty feeding too.

But really, if you don't have the money to spend, don't bother. Same as you wouldn't pay to get a massage if you don't have the budget for it -- lovely and relaxing but not necessary and/or necessarily beneficial.

More importantly, of those 4 or 5 practitioners we interviewed, a few of them scared the crap out of me. Please do not take your infant to a chiropractor who "adjusts" with any force or an instrument! My attitude with our chosen CS therapist was that her gentle touch wasn't going to do any harm -- except to my wallet! -- but some of the practitioners made me really nervous.

OP, memail me if you want more details about what I looked for in a CST practitioner, or more info about the tort/plagio stuff.
posted by bluebelle at 8:54 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone! To clarify, the person we were scheduled to see is not a chiropractor; she is a massage therapist and wouldn't be doing any adjustments or using any instruments(!). Nevertheless, based on the advice here and going with my instincts as well, I've decided to cancel the appointment. He is making really good progress with the physical therapy we are already doing, so we are going to stick with that and hopefully that will continue to help him! I haven't heard back from the pediatrician yet (probably tomorrow). If he offers any useful info, I will post it here for future readers/the curious.
posted by honeyx at 7:10 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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