Biotensegrity – Putting it Into Clinical Practice

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Biotensegrity is not a new concept but is one that has recently gained a lot of fame in the manual therapy world. Tensegrity essentially means ‘tension with integrity’ and of course ‘bio’ makes it alive. Tensegrity was a term used by Buckminster Fuller, an American engineer and architect, to describe architectural structures. Can we definitely say that Fuller was the ‘Father of Tensegrity’? well, that’s a little controversial as one of his students, Kenneth Snelson, was reported to design the first tensegrity structure. However, the term was born and is still used today to describe structures that have movement but also tension such as the Forth Rail Bridge and Eiffel Tower. Biotensegrity refers to the structure of life from the individual cell to the entire being and is a word coined by Dr Steven Levin an American Orthopaedic Surgeon with a lifelong interest in human movement and design.

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I was introduced to Biotensegrity and Dr Levins work in 2000 while at Massage School in the USA. We were taught the essentials of Biomechanics and the opposing view of the human body from a Biotensegrity approach. All the soft tissue and fascial techniques I was taught addressed the whole body avoiding compartmentalising and breaking it down into symptomatic parts. I had also purchased ‘The Search for Excellence’ by John F Barnes PT which was published in 1990 as I continued my Myofascial Release (MFR)  training and it included a chapter on tensegrity written by Dr Levin. Everything I have ever learned from a fascial point of view has been based on tensegrity and the body as a united moving structure. This is fundamental to feeling for and resolving Biotension resulting in lack integrity and vice versa.

There has been a lot written recently on Biotensgrity. However, for the practising therapist, that needs to be taken further. What happens when Biotensegrity goes wrong? If all parts of the body move together with concentric and eccentric loading, then symptoms, aches and pains would represent in a lack of integrity.

Every dysfunction in the body results in adhesive tissue. Misuse, disuse, overuse and underuse will create internal scarring and adhesions, you just can’t see them from the outside. Lack of integrity and tissue tension creates pulls and twists within the soft tissues causing irregular loading (Wolfs Law) resulting in the fascial thickening to try and support the load. There doesn’t need to be an external scar to have scar tissue and adhesion in your body.  See this video from a Channel 4 tv programme ‘Anatomy for Beginners’ by Dr Gunther von Hagens. Click on the picture below for the link.

Anatomy for Beginners

If you’re squeamish, just take my word for it, there are adhesions! This is a dissection of an unembalmed fresh cadaver. If you’ve been to a cadaver dissection, you’ll know that there is an ‘art’ to dissection but, Dr von Hagens does a bit of a butchers job here but his aim is to show you systems of the body, in this case, the circulatory system and it’s a fresh cadaver in a hot tv studio so he does the dissection part quite fast.

Everything that we do with MFR is looking for, feeling for, finding and treating internal scarring and adhesions. We assess the Biotensegrity structure, looking for lack of integrity using palpation skills, postural and movement assessments so that we have an idea of what is balanced and functional and what is not. The most useful assessment that I use in all my treatment sessions is a bilateral leg pull. I can assess the whole body with this. How far does the tissue pull and drag go up into the body, does it feel equal on both sides, does one leg seem stuck somewhere opposed to the other or not?

Tensegrity just makes sense when it comes to the fasciae. The fasciae also include the ground substance of the body, the gel that bathes and touches every cell. MFR is not just about treating the fascia around and through muscle, it is treating the entire fascial matrix which includes the ground substance. The ground substance transmits information regarding pressure and tension around the 3D matrix, therefore using light sustained pressure in our MFR approach targets the ground substance and not just the myoafscia. If we can alter the consistency of the ground substance by the heat, weight and pressure of our hands, we can address the thickening or viscosity of the ground substance so that it becomes less viscous (thinner) which in turn allows structures to glide past each other instead of sticking together.

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This picture, as good as it is for depicting the fascial system, is still not quite giving you the concept that fascia is multidimensional and multidirectional. Imagine your body is a sponge where all your bones, vessels, nerves and organs live inside that sponge. If you pull one part of that sponge, the pull and drag goes right through it and with it comes all the internal contents.

Being able to understand Biotensegrity and use that knowledge in treatment makes performing MFR so much easier yielding far better and long lasting results.

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Ruth Duncan

Ruth Duncan

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