What You Need to Know about Tensegrity and the Human Structure

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Biotensegrity is a fairly new approach to learning more about how the human body works. This principle is based on the idea that our bodies are mainly tensegrity structures, and that our bones don’t pass load directly to each other. As such, forces flow through our fascial structures and muscles primarily instead of flowing continuously through the bones.

Interestingly, this concept explains that our bones are not in direct contact with each other, and are just floating in the tension structure that is created by our fascial network. In simple terms, biotensegrity, as a concept, is a complete shift from the common belief that the bones in the human body are load-bearing structures that work like the framing of a house.

Bones As Spacers

As mentioned earlier, it isn’t our muscles and bones that are responsible for holding our shape and structure. This is a popular idea because it’s logical and it offers an easier explanation to how our body is made and how it works. Thus, it is inaccurate to compare the human body t the architecture of buildings. Buildings have a framework that is composed of steel beams that are welded and bolted together.

When you look at the human skeleton model, you will see that all the bones of the skeleton are kept intact by wires and bolts. Without these wires and bolts, the skeleton will fall. If you take a closer look at a human skeleton, you will see that connective tissue is what actually holds the bones in place. This tissue also provides the right amount of spacing between joints.

Bones serve as spacers in the skeletal system because they make sure there is appropriate distance between the different parts of the body, and that this spacing isn’t compromised. For example, the femur keeps the distance between the hip bone and the bones in the lower legs. Without the femur, your fibula and tibia are likely to touch your hip. Their function within the body’s structure will also be affected.

Octopus tentacles do not have joints, but their function is not compromised because it is still appropriate to its marine environment. Our joints, on the other hand, are very important in the functioning of our bodies, and so they are specifically located to adapt to our environment as we are upright and mobile beings.

Our joints are filled with liquid, and the two bones are kept attached to each other by straps, which are referred to as ligaments. The space between the bones allow them to move, while the ligaments control the range of motion of the bones. The bones, meanwhile, are geographic landmarks of our structure that also characterize the body’s movement.

The Human Body As a Tensegrity Structure

It was Buckminster Fuller who first introduced the concept of tensegrity structure in which the bones act as spacers that are kept together by soft tissue. The word tensegrity means ‘tensional integrity’.

Before this concept was formulated, the architecture of structures created by humans were known to be compressional by nature. Buildings and houses were believed to be built by compressional elements. This means that the hard pieces are kept in contact with each other using force that presses them together. This way, the entire structure remains intact.

On the other hand, a tensegrity structure is based on the concept that the continuity and integrity of a structure is because of its tensional elements – wires, strings, and other types of connectors. In short, the compressional elements work like spacers that sustain the proper amount of tension in the structure as a whole. This is achieved by making sure the compressional elements are not too close to each other.

How Is the Human Structure a Tensegritous One?

According to Fuller, the skin, muscles, and the connective tissues are the tensional elements which are separated by the hard compressional elements of the body – the bones. These tensional elements serve as the spacers that sustain the entire structure’s tension. They also distribute stress equally all through the entire structure instead of allowing stress to accumulate at particular points. In contrast to a compressional structure, it allows for more flexibility and stability. In case of misalignment in the body, this tensegrity structure turns into a compressional structure, and this is what we refer to as the ‘aging process’.

The spine is a perfect illustration of tensegrity. Most conceptual models of the spine show that the vertebrae are stacked on top of each other where force is passed compressively throughout the spine. This means that all the force passes through the soft disks in between the vertebrae. If this was true, the disks would be crushed apart as the spine is moved and rotated around.

In contrast, a tensegrity model illustrates that it is possible to create a mobile and flexible spinal column in which the vertebrae float apart from each other. What’s amazing about this model is that the vertebrae remain separated as long as the tension elements are intact. Thus, you can rotate them, press down on them, and even turn them upside down. It is also through this explanation that we can better understand the cause of various spinal dysfunctions, such as bulging disks.

If the fascial network and muscles (tension elements) become weak as a result of an injury or even lack of exercises, it will not be able to hold the vertebrae apart anymore. This means that in a weak back, the forces applied will pass compressively through the disks separating the vertebrae. As a result, the vertebrae crush and bulge out.

Because of our extremely sedentary lifestyle, the vital weight-supporting spinal muscles experience atrophy. And this is the main reason why many of us struggle with bulging disks, back pains, as well as other irregularities of the spine. In order to prevent the spine from going through extreme stress and in order to maintain the shape and stability of our body’s structure, it’s very important to be mobile and flexible. In short, we need to exercise!

Celeste Ezekiels
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