Tensegrity & Bodywork

The word ‘Tensegrity’ was coined by Buckminster Fuller, the guy who designed the geodesic dome. Tensegrity is a combination of the words ‘tension’ and ‘integrity’ and it describes a structure that gets its stability and its balance from the tensions placed within it, as opposed to most buildings that get their structural integrity from piling things on top of larger things. In terms of mass, the typical building is pyramid shaped, with the largest mass in the foundation and tapering to the roof. The main benefit of a tensegrity structure is economy of mass – it takes much less mass to support the same weight.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a partial tensegrity structure. The tension in the cables strung from arch to arch supports the weight of the road and the vehicles on it. Without that tensegrity-based design the bridge would have many more supports much more closely spaced, and the amount of mass involved would multiply many times over.

The human body is completely a tensegrity structure. Hold up a human skeleton, let it go, and you have a bunch of bones on the floor; it has no inherent structural integrity. The human body’s structural integrity is completely a function of the lines of force applied on and around the joints for the body’s support and stability. Add to that the movement our design affords us and you have a truly dynamic tensegrity-based structure. It relies on instantaneous adjustment of muscle tones applying lines of force into the structure for balanced and stable movement.

A key aspect of a tensegrity structure is that if you change the tension in any of the tensions supporting the structure, all the tensions will change and adjust for the structure to remain balanced and stable.

Applying this aspect on a practical level to the practice of massage therapy: any hypertonicity will be balanced by other hypertonicities, and this will literally involve every motor unit in the body to some degree. All balances and imbalances in the human structure are body-wide phenomena. Our unconscious mind will triangulate an intrinsic stability for every extrinsic or intrinsic hypertonicity (see the blog “Intrinsic/Extrinsic“). You can see that releasing a chronic hypertonicity will involve more than working that local myofascial scenario. This is more the case: the pattern of support and stability for that hypertonicity must be considered and addressed for change to be effective and long lasting. If these patterns are not addressed, the chances for effective and long-lasting results are reduced, possibly eliminated.

Every body is unique, and all movement patterns will be uniquely organized. However, there are commonalities that can be applied to everyone and utilized to increase the opportunities for effective and long lasting massage therapy.

Commonality #1

The weight of the torso rests on the sacrum. Movement of the legs rotates the head of the femur in the acetabulum of the Ileum. The sacroiliac joints cushion and mediate the movement of the legs with the weight of the torso. The quality of that cushion/mediation has a major impact on the quality of the whole structure’s balance and movement. Fluid SI joints offer graceful, poised movement. Stuck SI joints give stiff, guarded movement.

Commonality #2

The head must be balanced, and the eyes will be held level with the horizon. This means that all imbalances in the alignment of the structure and in the lines of force involved will be resolved at the Occiput/C1/C2
joints, compromising their alignment. The body will maintain these imbalances and misalignments to keep the eyes parallel to the horizon (for as long as it can).

Commonality #3

A primary line of force (involving balance, stability, and movement) will always go thru the psoas / iliacus / diaphragm complex.

Again, applying this on a practical level to the practice of massage therapy, there is much to be gained by using these commonalities as ‘fulcrum’ type balance points that all hypertonic forces will triangulate through for balance and stability.

As an example let’s say a client presents with pain in the right arm/shoulder and I suspect anterior rotator cuff damage, pretty much confirmed by assessing palpation and range of motion restrictions. (Note that, while ‘rotator cuff’ is technically four distinct stabilizing muscles for the gleno-humeral joint, the
term has come to refer to any problems deep in the entire g-h joint area; that’s how I’m using the term here). In addition to local massage work on adhesions and/or scar tissue around the gleno-humeral area, it will serve me well to palpate and assess the left mid-neck ‘myofascial scene’, especially deep around the
vertebrae. In the same sense, working the right sub-occipitals will support effective work. These areas would be a common or typical arrangement to support, stabilize, and move the right arm/shoulder compromise. On the anterior illustration this pattern is part of the lines of force colored blue.

Damage to the connective tissue structures involved in ‘rotator cuff’ complaints will always have a protective and stabilizing pattern passing to and through the coracoid process attachments. An effective approach often includes softening local adhesions and using the area as a fulcrum to feed movement to and through. On the anterior illustration, the pattern color is orange.

From a tensegrity point of view, the rotator cuff issue and attendant hypertonicities will be balanced and stabilized on the opposite side of the spine. Note the primary (blue) and secondary (orange) triangulations in the anterior and posterior illustrations. Combining any of these with the same or opposite side fulcrum points is the idea here (and any techniques can be applied – it’s not which technique am I using, it’s how am I using it).

‘Hot’ trigger points are also ‘intersections’ of triangulated hypertonicity patterns. For example, the superior angle of the scapula is a very common trigger point area. I have found that trigger points often ‘melt’ easily when I contact them in combination with triangle points above (opposite side C4-5 area, same side C1-2) and/or below (anterior rotator cuff, and add in, say, around the inferior angle of the scapula). Feeding the right arm/shoulder into the rib cage and through the SI joints (the illustrations suggest common patterns) helps ensure that my rotator cuff work will be more effective and long-lasting. With practice, combining any technique(s) with the LMD concepts of tensegrity and pattern organization becomes clearer and more easily thought through.

This same concept can be applied or adapted to any structural problems a client may present with: another example, low back pain on the left radiating down the leg.

A common or basic tensegrity starting point, with the client prone, is the right SI joint. The tensegrity logic from LMD’s perspective is the left leg is working to move around the stuck right SI joint, and that is creating and/or maintaining the left-side pain. Palpate the right SI joint for movement with the base of your palm. Pressing cross table into the joint, feel for movement: the SI joint in this scenario will often have little or none. Connect pressure into that right SI with the closest points on the triangles, in this case the left greater trochanter area and/or the left quadratus/lumbar area. I usually expand from there into the rib cage and/or legs, feeling for any area that ‘hooks up’ with what I’m feeling in the right SI. In this sense, movement in the right SI joint is an indicator of how the problematic lines of force are playing through this client’s structure. I always see how this plays all the way to the feet (and checking that the feet/ankles have no structural anomalies; if they do, the attendant scar tissue in those structures must be addressed). Similarly, I feel for the connections into the Occiput and down the arms, looking closely into rotator cuff involvement. Use your technique to feed movement and pressure into the local adhesions and hypertonicities, blending that with tensegrity patterns.

My experience is that the psoas patterns will always be involved here. For suggestions on how to treat the psoas / diaphragm / iliac complex see the LMD video on psoas work.

Common Tendencies

The main concept I am proposing here is that the ‘lines of force’ that the two illustrations suggest should be thought of as common tendencies that will more often than not play out in a dynamic tensegrity structure such as ours. We move and balance on two legs, we feed forces into our structure with two arms, and we must balance our head. We each do that uniquely, but the illustrations show the common tendencies that will be used to keep a structure like ours supported and stabilized as it moves.

Another way to look at his phenomenon: if the body was perfectly balanced, had perfect posture, and had no ‘issues’ to deal with, there would be even balance among all those lines of force, and there would be no pain involved, there would be no hypertonicities. That is purely hypothetical, but it illustrates a completely functional pattern, as opposed to problematic compromised patterns.

Conclusion

When imbalances occur for any reason, hypertonicities will occur to balance those out so the structure can function without falling over. As we bodyworkers seek to address connective tissue adhesions and damages, the associated hypertonicities will usually be organized in a framework represented by the illustrations. The advantage to seeing the body’s organization in this way is to balance our work through the structure, economizing the time and effort it takes to effectively address the client’s issues and complaints, and minimize the issues’ recurrence.

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