Did you know that cranial bones move?!!

Following on from the work of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (1828 – 1917) in developing early Osteopathy, Dr. William Sutherland (1873-1954) discovered that there were micro-movements between the cranial bones.

Dr. W Sutherland

Contrary to the earlier Victorian beliefs that cranial bones fused in adulthood, he found the cranial bones to be separate and observed the presence of groove marks along the edges where they were in contact with other cranial bones. Within his research, looking at the temporal bone (the cranial bone at the side of the head, underneath the ear), he saw that the contact edge was “beveled like the gills of a fish, indicating respiratory motion for an articular mechanism.”

In essence, there was a sliding motion occurring between the temporal bone and the parietal bone above. The groove marks not only indicated the presence of movement, but also the direction.

He found that by using light touch on another persons head, he could feel these small movements as they occurred.

What he then wanted to know was what would happen if there was compression in the system restricting these movements. It led him to conduct a number of experiments on himself where he bound parts of his head to restrict different directions of movement. What he discovered was that the different compression patterns caused dysfunction in a variety of body systems – one direction affected his digestive system, another his sleep cycles, another his anxiety. In one instance his wife even came into discover him passed out on his office floor. It was at this point she put an end to his self-experiments for putting at risk his own health.

He had found that compression in the cranium not only affects the head but the function of systems within the whole body.

In Craniosacral Therapy it is these cranial movements that are felt through light touch. When compression arises either from injury, patterns from birth or restrictions arising from daily stress, gentle contact can help re-establish the balance of movement and restore function, health & vitality to the whole body.


Tettembel, et al. Recording of cranial rhythm impulse. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 1978;78:149.
Frymann V. A study of the rhythmic motions of the living cranium. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 1971;70(9):928-45.
Adams T, Heisey R, Smith M, Briner B. Parietal bone mobility in the anesthetized cat. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 1992;92:599-622.