Tensegrity Medicine - the New Frontier
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
If you're up to date with what's happening in the world of bodywork, it's likely that you heard of the importance of fascia. Fascia is the catch-all term for all connective tissue that ensheaths and envelopes all of our body's structures. And it's a rising star taking the bodywork world by storm. Aside from the numerous journal articles and blog post in the past 10 years on its implications in bodywork modalities spanning from massage to acupuncture, numerous new therapies have surfaced with the manipulation of fascia in mind. These therapies span from the aggressive Stecco Fascial Manipulation to the gentle Bowenwork and Structural Integration therapies. There is even a Fascia Research Society that holds the international Fascia Research Congress every 2-3 years.
Needless to say, fascia and the manipulation of fascia has become increasingly important in the field of bodywork. With background to set the the scene, what exactly is Tensegrity Medicine?
Tensegrity - an Old Idea with New Implications
The concept of Tensegrity is not new, and didn't emerge with the recent interest in fascia. In fact, it originated as a term used in architecture. Coined by Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s, Fuller described Tensegrity as the combination of tension and integrity. This principle bases itself on the idea of creating structure with components of compression in a net of continuous tension. The components of compression (called "compressed members") are usually solid objects like bars or struts. And the net of tension, on the other hand, (composed of "pre-stressed tensioned members") are usually cables or tendons.
A Tensegrity structure is unique in that it loads components only in pure compression or pure tension. Which means no part of the structure experiences stress from being bent or weighted down. If you apply stress to one part of the Tensegrity structure, the stress is distributed evenly throughout the rest of the structure. This makes the structure incredibly stable, since the tension/compression can only fail in one way: if the weakest bars buckle or the weakest cables snap.
Since the original idea, numerous architectural applications have used the principle of Tensegrity. Some examples are the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Arena, the Georgia Dome, the Kurilpa Bridge, and many more.
Tensegrity Medicine - A Model For the Human Body
Given the expansive application of Tensegrity in architecture, it wasn't long until its principles where found applicable to biology. Harvard physician and scientist Dr. Donald E. Ingber used the theory of Tensegrity to explain cellular structure in microbiology. In fact, we can even understand the structure of proteins, the helix of DNA, and even the assembly of organs by understanding how the compression-tension assembly of Tensegrity structures minimize the material needed and maximizes the resiliency and strength of the structure.
It is not a far cry to apply all this to bones, muscles, ligaments, and fascia in the human body. In fact, Dr. Stephen Leven did just this in his 2006 article, Tensegrity, The New Biomechanics. Using his principle of Biotensegrity, we can even explain why things go wrong in the body. Tensegrity Medicine is essentially an approach to therapy that keeps the body's Tensegrity structure in mind. Because a chronic stress on the body is distributed throughout the system (as is the nature of a Tensegrity structure), a key idea in Tensegrity Medicine is that the problem is not always where the pain is.
Like we mentioned before, a Tensegrity structure can only fail in two ways. We can think of the "bars" as our bones and the "cables" as our muscles, tendons, and connective tissue. More often than not, we see that the way the Tensegrity structure of the body "fails" is through a muscle tear or ligament injury. Sometimes, excessive fascial tension causes pain as well. In Tensegrity Medicine, the root cause of all of these pains is not where the system "failed," but the point of excessive stress.
What Does Tensegrity Medicine Entail?
Since force applied to the Tensegrity structure is distributed throughout the system, the point that "fails" is often not the point that the "force" is applied. Tensigrity Medicine is a body work modality that uses myofascial testing and postural assessment to determine where the greatest restriction/tension in the body is. Then, therapists use light touch therapies to influence and manipulate the fascia, restoring the Tensegrity structure of the body.
Developed by Kelly Clancy, Tensegrity Medicine is a blend of many different bodywork disciplines unified under one philosophy. Kelly trained in Bowenwork, craniosacral therapy, Orthobiotomy, and Structural Integration, and further co-developed Ligament Influenced Fascial Therapy (LIFT). Although you can see shadows of these therapies in Tensegrity Medicine, it became its own medicine through patient-centered development.
What Can I Expect from Tensegrity Medicine?
A session of Tensegrity Medicine typically begins with postural assessment and myofascial testing. Then, the therapist treats the findings accordingly. After each bout of treatment, we may ask you to walk up and down the hall, so that your body can process. Don't worry if your therapist doesn't seem do very much treatment. Because we are treating the cause of your discomfort, we do not have to cast a wide net and chase the pain around the body. It is the precision of the treatment rather than the quantity that is important.
A day or two after your session, you may feel changes in your body. These changes may or may not be pleasant, but rest assured, this is a sign that your structure is reorganizing. In general, for a given condition, we recommend 1-2 treatments per week for 4-6 weeks before re-assessing impact.
Gómez-Jáuregui, V (2010). Tensegrity Structures and their Application to Architecture. Servicio de Publicaciones Universidad de Cantabria, p.19. ISBN 8481025755
Levin, Stephen, "Tensegrity, The New Biomechanics"; Hutson, M & Ellis, R (Eds.), Textbook of Musculoskeletal Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006
Musculoskeletal Prestress, "", Journal of Biomechanics, October 2009.
Ingber, Donald E. (January 1998). "The Architecture of Life" (PDF). Scientific American