While exploring old texts of osteopathy one comes across concepts which where known to the founders of this profession and which are considered to be pioneering models in today’s health care systems. One of these concepts is the tensegrity and the other is biopsychosocial factors, both involved in health and disease in the individual.

Tensegrity, a term coined by Buckminster Fuller refers to a mechanical principle based on the use of tension and compression components. As an example, in a simple camping tent, the struts would be the tension components and the cover would be the compression component. Where any force applied to one part of the tent will be equally distributed along the whole.

But in terms of biology and medicine “the long-term goal is to understand biological processes responsible for cell behavior as integrated, hierarchical systems rather than as isolated parts.” (Ingber, D. 2003). This means that a cell forms part of an integrated network constantly and reciprocally communicating with its environment via a tensegrity model.On the other hand new discoveries have proven that biopsychosocial factors contributing to or affecting health involve not only genes, but also signals from the environment which activate genetic expression. This concept is exemplified clearly in the following statement by Dispenza, J.’s (2007): “we also know that a pregnant woman’s external and internal environment play a very strong part in fetal brain development.” What Dispenza, J. is saying is that not only the genetic, hard wired, code can influence the correct development of a fetus, but also the external stimuli plays a determinant role in the way genes are expressed. And actually it is the expression of genes these which leads to a condition, not the genes themselves. This concept forms part of a revolutionary branch of biology known as epigenetics, “which literally means ‘control above genetics’”. (Lipton, B. 2010). Today it is understood that “DNA blueprints passed down through genes are not set in concrete at birth. Genes are not destiny!” (Lipton, B. 2010)

Are these two terms new? Have we read this before? I think we have, probably in many places, but regarding osteopathy; Andrew Tailor Still, the father of Osteopathy, believed that the body is a perfect machine where health is the natural state. This state is maintained unless there is an alteration or an obstruction to the flow of body fluids and nerve activity leading to dis-ease –meaning not in ease.

But above this, Still also acknowledged that correct flow of bodily fluids and nerve activity is not the only point to health. There are external factors, such as viral infections, where the host’s adaptability to the environment and the host’s immunological system have a strong influence on the response to these stressors. Still also recognized other factors such as hereditary, lifestyle, environment, personal behavior, psychological and social stresses as well as inactivity, poor sanitation, dietary indiscretion and substance abuse contributed to disease. (Chilla, A. 2011 a). These terms today would be considered as biopsychosocial risk factors summarized by Nikolai Bogduk (regarding Low Back Pain) as genetic, individual, physical and psychosocial factors interacting with each other leading to health or disease (Bogduk. N. p65)

Stills philosophy encompasses that dis-ease happens when any part of the body is not in line with the rest. Therefore the job of the Osteopath is to find which areas are in dis-ease, adjust them and return the body into ease. (Chilla, A. 2011 b). “Find it, fix it, leave it alone”; remembering that the osteopathic physician is a facilitator of the healing process and that healing comes from within (Nelson, K. et al. 2007).

Both, tensegrity and biopsychosocial concepts exemplify Still’s model of health, in essence a model which relies on the integration of all body parts. Not only the purely mechanical ones but also the emotional and social aspects.

Therefore, when treating osteopathically the practitioner should take into account all aspects of the individual’s life in order to restore health. This is not only looking for the ’tissue causing pain’ but for the true origin of this pain. Because pain in a certain area of the body can be an expression of an underlying condition.


Chila, A. et al (2011) Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine. a: 10 Referencing AT Still’s Research and Practice; b: 12 Referencing A.T. Stills work and others. References 14, 16, 17 of chapter 1.

Dispenza, J. (2007). Evolve Your Brain. Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Fl. XV. p: 147

Ingber, D. (2003) Tensegrity I. Cell structure and hierarchical systems biology. Journal of Cell Science 116, 1157-1173. Boston, USA. p: 2

Lipton, B. (2010). The Biology of Belief. Hay House UK, Ltd. London, UK. p: 37

Nelson, K. et al (2007) Somatic Dysfunction in Osteopathic Family Medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 391

Parsons J. et al (2008). Osteopathy, Models for Diagnosis, Treatment and Practice. 3rd Edition. Churchill Livingstone. a: 77, b: 72, c: 75