Craniosacral Therapy and Recovery from Anaesthetic


As a Craniosacral Therapist, I regularly meet clients preparing and recovering from surgery in my private practice and in a hospital in Brighton where I work alongside medically trained colleagues specialising in respite and medical convalescence. I find that the effects of general anaesthetic appear to linger in some people beyond the normal recovery period, sometimes for days or weeks after the surgery and possibly longer. While most people recover well, some experience a range of sensations that can feel disorienting and distressing if left unresolved. I’d like to highlight some of the common experiences I’ve encountered and describe how I support clients through their recovery process.

What happens under general anaesthetic?

General anaesthesia is a whole person experience, affecting body, brain and mind. The variety of medications used ensure the following responses:

  • Analgesia — loss of response to pain and sensation
  • Amnesia — loss of memory
  • Immobility — loss of motor reflexes and control of reflexes of the autonomic nervous system
  • Unconsciousness
  • Relaxation of skeletal muscles

The skill of Anaesthetists and the drugs used continue to be refined and this progress means that people are treated more and more safely and effectively. Hopefully, most people will recover from anaesthetic with no problems although as with all medication, some will respond differently to the combination of drugs used. In these instances, I often hear the following experiences:

  • “I feel like I’m floating and my feet aren’t touching the ground”
  • “There’s a delay from when I decide to do something to when my body actually moves”
  • “A part/side of my body feels like it’s not really there”
  • “I want to burst into tears or shout at someone and I have no idea why?”
  • “I feel like I’m in a dream, everything’s a bit hazy”
  • “I feel as if I’m about to fall over or bump into something”
  • “I have an underlying sense of panic and I don’t know why”

Even when the surgery is deemed successful, the body, brain and mind can appear to respond “as if” still anaesthetised even though the anaesthetic chemicals have been metabolised, perhaps in a non-conscious attempt to maintain a sense of safety. This is fine in the short-term but problematic if it becomes a habitual way of being. These residual effects have the potential to impair the clarity and nuance of movement, body sensation, spacial awareness and emotions.

Emotional Responses

As emotions are experienced in the body, anaesthetic often stimulates an emotional response in addition to the changes in perception and sensation. Along with the physical implications of surgery, “not feeling the body” can distort the sense of self and bring up feelings of fear, sadness and anger. The intense immobilisation and disorientation of anaesthesia, coupled with the loss of control to the surgical team can lead to a sense of vulnerability, agitation and helplessness. This can happen even when the client ‘rationally’ understands that the surgeon is highly skilled and empathic and the operation was successful. The emotional response of the patient needs to be acknowledged and respected whatever the response, and reintegrating a sense of the body is an essential part of this process.

Reintegrating Sensation and Movement with Craniosacral Therapy

In Craniosacral sessions I use touch and simple conversation with the client about their body awareness to support feelings of safety and relaxation. This helps the client to feel their way back into their body in present time so that their physiology no longer responds “as if” still anaesthetised. Returning to sensation too quickly can in itself feel overwhelming after being in such a deeply immobilised state which is one of the reasons why the gentle pace of Craniosacral Therapy is so effective. The numbing effect of anaesthetic means that clients often comment how they weren’t aware that they “couldn’t feel their legs or their connection with the ground” until they have been held in this way.

Sometimes clients feel clumsy, uncoordinated and slow after anaesthetic, their limbs can feel like they aren’t quite connected to the body. Mis-timing small movements can go with the sense of “the body not really being there” or sometimes that the whole body feels like “a ghost” or “a hologram“. While gross movements usually return quickly,   subtle movement is sometimes slower to return so I often help clients to engage with simple, gentle physical movement to help ‘light up’ parts of the body that feel disconnected.

An enormous amount of energy is used to immobilise a whole living system, the surplus of this energy needs to be discharged while coming out of this state and mammals naturally do this through movement. Human physiology is similar to other mammals in this respect yet many of the medications used in human anaesthesia are designed to stop post-operative shivering. Shivering, twitching or trembling sometimes happen in a craniosacral session and I reassure and support clients to do this safely.

Feeling Grounded, Vital and Full

The disorientation caused by anaesthetic can be subtle, distressing and confusing and this is why I think it is so important for people to be supported through the process so that they can reestablish their sense of body, space and self.  Craniosacral Therapy helps the haze of anaesthesia to clear and is followed by a more grounded, fuller sense of the body and a clearer mind.


NB – The medical priority

Maintaining communication with the primary care services available (eg Doctor or Surgical Consultant) is obviously the priority for the client to ensure safety from a medical perspective and there are many vital ways that rehabilitation is supported in this way. The support I offer to clients is ‘complementary tonotinstead of‘ medical care. Anyone who has had surgery or anaesthetic needs to speak with their primary care contact in the first instance and particularly if they have any concerns about their health.


9 Replies to “Craniosacral Therapy and Recovery from Anaesthetic”

  1. Hi Steve. How lucky your clients are to have you close post surgery.
    Due to toxic hip implants I have had 4 hip revisions in 12 months. Epidural and sedation as apposed to general anaesthetic was used and kinder I think. I had had bilateral hips done only 5 years earlier, so kind of knew what to expect. And the trauma picture was also loaded with system metal toxicity and much more. Every case has its own story.
    My BCST colleagues have supported me thru this process. I can’t thank them enough 🙂 for a resourced recovery and a fairly speedy one at that. I was fortunate to have hands on several times after each surgery in the 3-5 day hospital recovery period as well as in the weeks post op between surgery s.
    What a vision to have CST as a post op treatment.
    I’d like to add some comments.
    As therapists we need to be careful about assumption. Not all surgery is as provocative as the polar bear being chased and darted, and in many cases today, not all by any means, there is great improvement in explanation and drugs and recovery processes used.
    Post operative pain medications can also be as or more traumatic than anaesthetic in some cases, and the area and kind of surgery will have different affects on the wholeness of the patients web/ facial continuum as well as the immediate wound site., hence some of the mentioned symptoms as well. Also the resource of the patient as in emergency, trauma or elective surgery, as well as the individuals unique picture
    As always, as therapists we need to be incredibly mindful that we don’t shadow/reflect our own fears, and experiences, known or hidden, and lack of knowledge into the resonance of the treatment.
    Sounds like a great BCST post grad option to me. See you in NZ sometime soon 🙂

    1. Hi Lynne, thanks for your comments! I’m glad to hear that you had a resourced and speedy recovery from your surgery, and of course that you were supported with CST 🙂 I agree fully that assumptions are problematic, everyone will have their own response to surgery and medication, and their own road to recovery. The strong imagery of the polar bear captures the basics of the physiology well for me, even if the circumstances are different to human experience in hospital, thankfully patients aren’t chased by helicopter! 🙂 Another major part of my practice is with people on long term medication regimens, particularly pain meds, and this is really similar in terms of the effects and also in how to work with them cranially, it’s a fascinating area of work! My approach is to work with the meds as a resource and this seems to have made a difference over the years. I’d love to pop back to NZ at some stage, I last visited long before I even heard of CST so all the more reason to visit now! Cheers, Steve

  2. Hi Steve

    I like to share my experience recovering from surgery in 2008. Prior to my surgery in 2008, I have never been hospitalised and yet alone have surgery. I myself am a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy practitioner in Singapore. I have read many literature about surgery and recovery from anaesthesia.

    So, months before my surgery I prepared myself by having regular Biodynamic Craniosacral sessions and I did visualisation meditations for a safe surgery and a speedy recovery. I also made arrangements for my friends (who were at that time were training to be BCST practitioners) to do craniosacral sessions on me while I was in hospital.

    The day after my surgery, two of my friends came and did a craniosacral session on me. Midway through the session I felt nausea. I kept breathing in deeply and I could sense a whift of ether around me. I thought it came from the neighbouring patient as the doctors and nurses came earlier on and were doing some procedure on her.

    After my craniosacral session I commented “poor neighbour having to inhale all those strong ether” and asked my friends whether they smelled that too. To my surprise they said no. So that ether must have come from me.

    I remembered reading an Upledger article saying that during CST sessions, anaesthetic would be released from the body. I didn’t think I would experience the same thing.

    I am grateful to my friends who supported me during this period and I consider myself very fortunate to be resourced with craniosacral for a speedy recovery.

    1. Hi Adida,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, especially for mentioning the preparation you made before surgery. Surgery and/or anaesthetic can have a huge impact, so preparing well to be as healthy as possible will no doubt improve recovery. I’m glad you also had the support of your friends and colleagues afterwards, lucky you! 🙂

      Warm regards,


  3. Great writing Steve about an important topic that appears regularly in my practice.I have found the effects can be felt years later.

    1. Thanks, Colin. Yes, it’s amazing how long the residual effects of these experiences can last. I suppose the effects are (necessarily) so powerful that we miss the change and habituate the feeling.

  4. I am a BCST in Leicester but before that I worked as an occupational therapist in hospitals. I came across many patients struggling to mobilise, feeling peripheral numbness, disassociation, confusion, hallucination and falls post surgery. The effects of anaesthetic can be lasting and I can appreciate the benefits of BCST – restoring feelings of wholeness, embodiment, providing clarity, focus, and release of trauma the body as gone through. The process of shivers and tremors is so valuable to release the trauma.

    It is very inspiring that Brighton is advanced in accepting complimentary therapy as BCST for post surgery patients. I feel BCST would be very used in Intensive Care Unit (ICU), as we are able to bring feeling of safety and clarity to our clients as ICU can be such an alien, scarey environment to patients. Thank you Steve for sharing this.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Minaxi. I sometimes think that the effects of anaesthetic is such a common experience that it often gets overlooked by patients and clinicians alike.

      While working in the centre I mentioned in the post, I was fortunate to have the support and appreciation of front line staff who saw the benefits for the clients first hand. Thankfully the environment and structure of the organisation during the 12 years i worked there was open to a more rounded approach to care.

      BCST would surely be a wonderful addition to settings like ICU, which as you say can be scary, and sadly all too frequently. Given the culture we live in, it’s also highly likely that we will frequently encounter these patterns in private practice, particularly considering how quickly patients are being discharged these days.

      I’m glad to here there’s BCST in Leicester. I lived there many moons ago and have very fond memories 🙂

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