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21st Century Scientific Support for Osteopathic Principles & Practice

Tensegrity is an engineering term developed by Buckminister Fuller.  The clinical application guru of tensegrity is Donald Ingber, PhD, MD at Harvard Medical School. Ingber believes that tensegrity is the architectural design utilized by nature; and at all levels of nature and the human body.

A tensegrity structure consists of multiple non-touching rods (compression struts) and a continuous connecting system (tension system) embedding or islanding the compression struts. Ingber suggests the bones of the body are the compression struts while the continuous tension system represents the ligamentous and myofascial tissues of the body. These systems are complexly dynamic, omni - directional in movement, a system that is totally integrated, exhibits balanced tension and a total system adaptive potential when a force is introduced into the tensegrity structure. Tensegrity systems are also gravity defying structures, are multi-level hierarchical systems in which an introduced force can influence any part of the total system; from the macro to the micro hierarchical levels of this structure and this force can be distributed throughout the system in a non-linear manner.

Ingber’s research demonstrates that cell shape is also important in determining the physiological activity of cells. Normal shaped cells tend to differentiate and specialize. Stretched cells have the potential to undergo uncontrolled cell growth while rounded cells tend to undergo cell death (apoptois). The change of shape of a tensegrity system may secondarily alter cell/tissue shape.  Ingber’s research has also demonstrated that change of cell shape can in addition result in a change of biochemical and/or genetic expression of the shape altered cells. 


Tensegrity also enables the health care provider an expanded potential for understanding chronic pain. When trauma is sustained by a tensegrity system, the whole system adapts and re-balances.  The area where the most adaptation is required is frequently where the pain is experienced!...not where the trauma occurred or entered the system. Just treating, with OMT, the painful musculoskeletal area may be ineffective in relieving the pain since it is secondary to other areas of dysfunction and compensation. The whole system must be evaluated.  See the later section describing AGR and sequencing OMT.

The clinical implications could be profound concerning the adverse role somatic dysfunction could have on the human tensegrity structure, the related tissue shape changes, the associated biochemical and genetic expression changes as well as differentiation and specialization potential.  In addition, one must consider the potential beneficial impact of quality and appropriate manual therapy, by identifying and appropriately removing the somatic dysfunction hindrances, and thus enabling the patient to realize their optimal health potential by restoring their tensegrity potential. Remember, removing the somatic dysfunction hindrances might also have a beneficial impact on the arms of the clinical/cell schematic.

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