Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Biocranial Baloney

Recently in the field of chiropractic alternative medicine the ‘Biocranial Technique’ has become rapidly popular. Not satisfied with cracking your bones, this ‘technique’ seeks to realign bones in the skull and top of the spine to increase the efficiency and duration of the ‘correction’. Chiropractor S. Marmorstein describes the technique as "the membrane within the skull excerts and powerful influence over the integrity of the spine. With it, the entire spine and pelvis can be adjusted simply by working on the cranium"1. The exact procedure seems to vary from practitioner to practitioner; such variance would not be tolerated in the medical community. Robert Boyd developed the Biocranial system and claimed that “most injuries occur at birth, and that this can be influenced during pregnancy and from the birth of the mother, and so on”2 and that these ‘injuries’ don’t need to have symptoms to still affect us and our offspring. The idea that pressure on the soft bones of the skull during pregnancy and childbirth can cause or influence disease later in life is quite illogical, because the skull needs to be malleable in order to exit the birth canal, and so we would all be affected by this (which conveniently means this technique is applicable for everyone). It is also not explained how some gentle manipulation of the scalp or rubbing of the spine correct this. Another claim is that rhythms of the craniosacral system can be felt with the fingertips and that this is the flow of cranial fluid 3, the rate and flow of which has been claimed to have an influence or be an indicator of disease.

No properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled trials have been published regarding any Biocranial technique 3. Furthermore, of the small trials that have been carried out to compare practitioners, the practitioners were requested to record the ‘cranial rhythm’ they claimed to feel in their patents, however when compared there was no similarity in their measurements 3. Scientific evidence does not support the theory of misalignment of cranial bones, the medical community believes that the bones of the skull are fused by sutures 4 (fibrous joins), but allowing small expansion due to intracranial pressure, however, this does not suggest that they could become misaligned or that this could be a cause of disease since the movement would be miniscule. This technique has been claimed to treat a range of disorders including: Angina, hypertension, eczema, arthritis, asthma and gastric problems 3. Over all, this technique can be seen as another ineffective and unnecessary addition to the vast numbers of alternative medical procedures available, which seek to separate the patient from their money in exchange for unrealistic pseudoscientific claims.

E Markham (2011). Biocranial Baloney Blogspot


  1. It is not that new. Cranial osteopathy developed in the 1940's. You have unfortunately mashed a variety of cranial techniques from a variety of practitioners to form some weak conclusions. Cranio-sacral therapy is not the same as cranial osteopathy or cranial chiropractic although they may have similar roots. I could not find any mention of the Bio-cranial technique you cite in ref 1.
    You correctly highlight the poor state of evidence for cranial techniques but your reliance on wikipedia, youtube and a partisan quack buster site undermine your points.
    One way of describing this technique is that it is experimental, needs more research on the basic science and the outcomes and that this is going on eg here
    This is not unique to cranial work. Much of medical science operates this way. It is incumbent on all practitioners who use treatments that only have weak evidence to highlight this to prospective patients so that consent is informed.

  2. Andrew Gilbey,

    Matt B, you're right that one way to describe this 'technique' is experimental. Another way is biologically implausible. I can think of some more, too!

    The bottom line is that it is absolutely indefensible to ask people to pay for treatment that is not supported by evidence.

    Check out: Hartman SE, Norton JM. 2002. Interexaminer reliability and cranial osteopathy. Sci Rev Altern Med 6:23–34. You should be able to find it on google.

  3. I have my patients pay for what works for them. For many of them it is Bio Cranial Technique. The people who go from having daily migraines for fifteen years down to a couple per year don't need anything double-blind to convince them that their money is well spent.
    Perhaps "the scientific method" needs some help. Have you seen the healthcare in the US in the last few decades?

  4. 'Dr' Marchese, circumstantial evidence is not evidence that something works. Many of these people would simply benefit from someone sitting down and letting them talk through their problem, and giving them time and empathy would alleviate many of their problems, which is something an over worked GP does not have time to provide to all of his patients.

    Would you also suggest that the NHS should provide placebos to patients? As patients have said they had relieved symptoms after taking what they thought to be medication.