DALLAS — Thomas Elliot was born prematurely at less than one pound. He was about the size of a soda can.
Now, at age four, Thomas has had delayed development on all fronts.
But he's come a long way thanks to simple, gentle touch called craniosacral therapy, an alternative technique in which a therapist normalizes cerebral spinal fluid flow by manipulating the tissues between the bones.
The touch is designed to promote healing from within.
"You're really working with the tissue of the body," explained physical therapist Sally Fryer, founder of Integrative Pediatric Therapy in Dallas. "Your hands are over the head, the cranium, using the skull bones really as handles to help relax the central nervous system."
The craniosacral system consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Experts in craniosacral therapy believe an imbalance in the body can result in sensory, motor, and neurological dysfunctions. Correcting the balance can help speed functional ability and stimulate healing.
Fryer used the technique to help prepare the conjoined Egyptian twins for separation surgery a decade ago. Now, the technique is being used for everything from sleep disturbances to headaches.
"We see kids with autism, with developmental disabilities, with anxiety disorders... with things just aren't working quite right, learning differences," she said.
Fryer said the gentle touch is unlike massage or acupuncture, which uses firm pressure or trigger points.
Many insurance plans cover the craniosacral treatments. Despite that, traditional medicine often questions the benefits of the alternative therapy.
According to the American Cancer Society:
"Available scientific evidence does not support claims that craniosacral therapy helps in treating cancer or any other disease. But it may help some people with cancer feel more relaxed. The gentle, hands-on method may offer some relief for symptoms of stress and tension."
A 2011 study printed in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found no difference in the gross motor function of children with cerebral palsy who were treated with craniosacral therapy.
Thomas' mother, Rebecca Elliot, said the differences she sees can't be measured by traditional means. She says a few months of craniosacral therapy has speeded up her son's development on many levels.
"Thomas is now able to sit and focus on a task, and sit and eat his lunch at home without getting up 10,000 times," she said. "So it has really helped him focus on things."
Craniosacral therapy is most often performed as a complementary treatment.
"It really is cutting edge therapy," said Fryer, who admits she was not a believer in the treatment at first.
"Kids just do better. Parents feel better. We see greater developmental jumps and gains for the children who get both the craniosacral therapy and the developmental work, the sensory integration or physical and occupational therapy," she added.
A combination of therapies — including craniosacral — is giving Thomas Elliot a chance to lead a happy and more functional childhood.