It’s not the bones that hold us together and give us form. It is natural to think that way, because the bones are non-bending. But, without any supporting tissue would the skeleton retain it’s shape? No. It would collapse into a formless pile.

What holds us together against the forces of gravity and movement is a concept called “Tensegrity.”

Tensegrity is the description of an architectural structure that maintains shape through a balance of tension and compression units. This term has been widely attributed to R. Buckminster Fuller, and American architect. He described tensegrity as “Islands of compression in a sea of tension.”

In the human body, the tension structures are the muscles, fascia and ligaments, and the compressive units are the bones. While the bones provide resistance to the compressive loads of gravity and impact, tension provided by the soft tissues works to disperse the load throughout the entire body.

The benefit of the tensegrity design is that it provides MAXIMAL resistance to force using the MINIMUM overall mass. Additionally, this design can allow a structure to be flexible (allow overall movement) but still retain its essential shape.

My favorite analogy of tensegrity is a suspension bridge.

Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

In this analogy, the girders act as the compression units, while the cables are the tension units. Neither structure alone can stand against gravity and support the weight of the cars.

Think of the girders of the bridge like the bones of the body and the cables of the bridge like the muscles, tendons, and connective tissue.

Why are we talking about this? To show how critical it is to assess and treat the body as a whole. A restriction in the ankle or even the toe can cause compensations in other areas of the body, leading to injury.