Craniosacral Therapy (CST) May Be Effective in the Treatment of Headache

A Feasibility Study

Sponsor: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Collaborator: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Information provided by (Responsible Party): Douglas Mann, MD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill



Treatment of migraine continues to be a major health problem today, despite many new pharmacological therapies. Limited clinical experience suggests that craniosacral therapy (CST) may be effective in the treatment of headache, including migraine.

The primary aim of this proposal is to gather quality preliminary data on the usefulness of CST as an adjunct to conventional care for patients with migraine and to determine the feasibility of a larger, randomized clinical trial of CST in patients with migraine.

Craniosacral therapists use a technique of gentle palpation of the head, neck and spine to release restrictions in cranial and peri-spinal tissues that are believed to contribute to a variety of health problems including headache.

It is estimated that more than 2 million visits to CST practitioners are made each year, with more than 10 per cent of those for the complaint of headache.

There has been no rigorous research examining the usefulness of CST for patients with migraine despite the impression of beneficial effects.

Our limited preliminary data show significant, sustained benefit of CST in a small group of patients with migraine.

The First Specific Aim is to determine the feasibility of developing a clinical trial comparing craniosacral therapy versus low-strength static magnets (attention-control complementary therapy) as a treatment for preventing migraine headaches.

Patients with migraine, with or without aura, under care of a neurologist will be studied. After an 8-week baseline period, they will be randomized to one of two groups: 1) usual medical care plus 8 weeks of CST; or 2) usual medical care plus 8 weeks of attention-control complementary treatment. Primary outcome measures will include: 1) headache-related quality of life, 2) headache frequency, and 3) perceived benefit in those receiving treatment.

The Second Specific Aim is to identify relevant secondary outcomes associated with usual care plus adjunctive craniosacral therapy for migraine. Data collection will include demographics, headache intensity and duration, health status, headache-related disability, health care utilization, and medication use.

The Third Specific Aim is to identify and find solutions for potential problems in conducting a larger clinical trial to assess the efficacy of CST for the prevention of migraine. Patients will be recruited from the University of North Carolina Headache Clinic and from local neurological practices.

Duration of the study for each subject is 16 weeks. Length of the entire project is 2 years.



Migraine affects approximately 20% of the population. Conventional care for migraine is suboptimal; overuse of medications for the treatment of episodic migraines is a risk factor for developing chronic daily headache. The study of non-pharmaceutical approaches for prevention of migraine headaches is therefore warranted. Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a popular non-pharmacological approach to the treatment or prevention of migraine headaches for which there is limited evidence of safety and efficacy. In this paper, we describe an ongoing feasibility study to assess the safety and efficacy of CST in the treatment of migraine, using a rigorous and innovative randomized controlled study design involving low-strength static magnets (LSSM) as an attention control intervention.



The trial is designed to test the hypothesis that, compared to those receiving usual care plus a treatment with low-strength static magnets (attention-control complementary therapy), subjects receiving usual medical care plus CST will demonstrate significant improvement in: quality-of-life as measured by the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6); reduced frequency of migraine; and a perception of clinical benefit. Criteria for inclusion are either gender, age > 11, English or Spanish speaking, meeting the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) criteria for migraine with or without aura, a headache frequency of 5 to 15 per month over at least two years. After an 8 week baseline phase, eligible subjects are randomized to either CST or an attention control intervention, low strength static magnets (LSSM). To evaluate possible therapist bias, videotaped encounters are analyzed to assess for any systematic group differences in interactions with subjects.



169 individuals have been screened for eligibility, of which 109 were eligible for the study. Five did not qualify during the baseline phase because of inadequate headache frequency. Nineteen have withdrawn from the study after giving consent.



This report endorses the feasibility of undertaking a rigorous randomized clinical trial of CST for migraine using a standardized CST protocol and an innovative control protocol developed for the study. Subjects are able and willing to complete detailed headache diaries during an 8-week baseline period, with few dropouts during the study period, indicating the acceptability of both interventions.

References: Identifier: NCT00665236