Biotensegrity - A concept which can help cure the pelvic pain epidemic

‘’All structures, properly understood, from the solar system to the atom, are tensegrity structures’’ - Buckminster Fuller

Most treatments for pelvic pain focus primarily on the pelvic floor.  Approaches which focus exclusively on the pelvic floor frequently lead to disspointing outcomes for patients. While the pelvic floor is usually tight and constricted it is merely reacting to dysfunctional tension throughout the body.  The pelvic floor musculature is not the primary problem.  No muscle works in isolation.  Recovery from pelvic pain requires one to work on muscles in and around the pelvis in particular the hamstrings, hips, glutes and hip flexors.  Recovery from pelvic pain is not simply about relaxing the pelvic floor but rather changing the geometry of your own body and tissues.

Most people when they come and see me are understandably focused on tension and pain in their pelvic floor.  When I explain that perhaps tension in their legs and hips are driving this tension in the pelvic floor some people are sceptical.  While this is understandable a new view of the body as a bio tensegrity structure helps to explain how tension in other muscles is driving tension in the pelvic floor.  

Tensegrity is a term coined by the architect Buckminster Fuller and is a contraction of the words tension and integrity.  A tensegrity structure is a physical representation of the forces holding it together – compression and tension.  Indeed an atom is a tensegrity structure held together by opposing forces – attraction (compression) and repulsion (tension).  

The first person to create a tensegrity structure was Fuller’s student, the sculptor Kenneth Snelson. You can see one of his structures below.

tensegrity structure.jpg

The sculpture stays together due to two opposing forces - compression and tension.  The rods are pulled apart by the cables (tension) and the rods are the compression elements of the structure. In addition due to tensegrity the load to the sculpture is distributed throughout the entire structure.   A bicycle wheel is a tensegrity structure with the tensioned spokes the tension element and the hub of the wheel creating the compression.

bike wheel.png

Let’s apply the principles of tensegrity then to the human body and how it relates to pelvic floor dysfunction.  In this video below Tom Myers describes our bones as the struts (compression) and our soft tissues as the cables (tension).  While this is a simplification of how tensegrity can be applied to the body it provides an adequate introduction to the concept.


The main message that I would like you to take from this video is that we are not a series of parts.  We are not as Myers explains a continuous compression structure with everything stacked neatly on top of each other but rather an organism where every part is integrated into a complete functioning unit.  The most relevant statement in the video as regards pelvic pain treatment is this one

‘‘Where you think it is it ain’t’’ - Ida Rolf

The dysfunctional tension in the pelvic floor is related to other areas of dysfunctional tension in the body.

The concept of bio tensegrity is one developed by the Orthopedic surgeon Dr Stephen Levin. As an orthopedic surgeon , Stephen Levin found that bones do not compress each other across their joint surfaces and appear to float within the soft tissues. 

Biotensegrity is a very recent concept but it is one which can help us solve the epidemic of chronic pelvic pain.

‘’The resolution of a ‘local condition can then require a ‘whole body’ approach to treating it (or vice versa) particularly if tissues some distance away have become adapted to changes in the overall structural balance and an understanding of biotensegrity provides the rational for this. ‘’ – Graham Scar, Author of Biotensegrity : The Structural Basis Of Life.