TENSEGRITY 101: UNDERSTANDING THE BONE-MUSCLE RELATIONSHIP
Pain Relief & Restored Strength May be Only a Laser Beam Away
Dr. Rosenthal: Let’s talk about tensegrity.
You: Say what?
DR: Tensegrity! The tensional integrity that keeps your bones and muscles from falling to a heap on the floor.
You: Um, could that actually happen?
DR: Not likely. Because of tensegrity.
You: Yeah, I really have no idea what you’re talking about.
DR: I know, I know. It’s complicated! Just please keep reading until I get to the good stuff. Because, if you’ve ever felt weak or off-balance, you’ll be glad you did. (Also, there are laser beams involved. Seriously, you need to keep reading.)
What on Earth is tensegrity?
“Tensegrity” is actually an architectural term coined by architect Richard Fuller to describe a system of rigid bar-like structures suspended by cable-like lines that pull in opposite directions. In the human body, your bones are the bars and your muscles are the cables that hold them in place. Without the tension created by the muscles, your bones would indeed fall into a pile on the ground. While this extreme event is unlikely, a loss of normal tension can shift your body into an altered position––much like a puppet with its strings too loose on one side! The stress points created in this abnormal body position, or misalignment, can result in pain, fatigue, organ dysfunction and degenerative joint disease (arthritis). (1)
The relationship between proper alignment and good health has always been front and center in the world of chiropractic. We have long observed clinically that small distortions in posture can have large effects throughout the body.
So, what’s new? (And why should we care?)
I recently had the opportunity to study a revolutionary new technique with Jeffrey Spencer, a doctor of chiropractic and a legend in the field of human performance. Through his years of working with world-class professional athletes like Tiger Woods and Maria Sharapova, Dr. Spencer developed a comprehensive system for identifying specific weaknesses and restoring muscular function and normal body tensegrity.
To my surprise (and contrary to what many health practitioners are taught), Dr. Spencer discovered that 85 percent of the muscular weakness has NOTHING to do with the muscles themselves, but rather the loss of correct control of the muscle by the nerve that innervates it. Fix the nerve-muscle relationship and normal tensegrity and function are restored. Not only does this provide a competitive advantage, it helps prevent future injury, too.
How does tensegrity treatment work?
First, key muscles are evaluated for weakness. For example, I will test your psoas muscle (which acts to raise your knee towards your chest and is controlled by a nerve that exits from your lower spine) by having you lie on your back and raise one leg off of the table. If you are unable to hold it against a gentle downward pressure that I apply, I then evaluate to see if your problem originates from the nerve or the muscle. Like Dr. Spencer, I have observed that the underlying cause is most commonly nerve-related.
The correction is made by using a low level laser. Unlike high-powered surgical lasers, low level (also known as cold) lasers are stimulating to the body and are not felt by the patient. Much like turning a light switch on, a few seconds of the laser application to the involved nerve root brings lasting strength back to the muscle. Patients are often surprised and do not think that anything was even done until they feel their strength fully restored when retested.
But, I’m not a professional athlete…
No worries! This work is still for you. Muscle inhibition occurs from over-exertion and can result from the normal activities of us common folk. You may work over a computer, carry a baby, lug around heavy groceries or a school bag, drive long hours or perform any of the millions of everyday activities that over-stress our bodies!
This work is years ahead of the science. It was born during countless hours spent on the front lines of top sporting events. I have many questions about the exact mechanisms in play. I love to know all the “why’s,” but will have to wait until future research catches up. Until then, I am grateful for Dr. Spencer’s experience, knowledge and ability to think outside the box and simply figure out what works (a sentiment I am sure is shared by the athletes he has helped win gold).
By approaching your body as a tensegrity system and by understanding the role your muscles and nerves play, solutions to problems and pain that were seemingly incurable may be just a laser beam away.
Annals of Medicine 2003;35(8):564-77. 2003: