In osteopathic musculoskeletal medicine, we place a lot of emphasis on an idea known as “biotensegrity” or “tensegrity,” for short. Tensegrity is the concept that rigid structures can be indirectly connected by flexible structures by balancing tensions between the rigid structures. A simple example is wooden pegs connected only by rubber bands. An online search will bring up much more complex tensegrity sculptures, but none are as complex as the human body. The soft tissue of the body acts to balance the tension surrounding our bony skeleton in order to prevent too much wear on our joints.
In arthritic and other degenerative conditions, there has been a breakdown in the body’s tensegrity. The bony damage that results is a side-effect of this breakdown, and the degree of pain and loss of function is related more to the loss of tensegrity than to the bony damage. This is why some people can have mild arthritis with a great deal of pain, while others have severe arthritis and almost no discomfort.
An osteopathic musculoskeletal specialist is trained to evaluate your body’s tensegrity and apply treatments that can help restore it. While we cannot repair the bony damage, we can often relieve pain and improve function by addressing the body’s overall structure. In addition, we are trained to look both upstream and downstream from the problem area to determine if imbalances elsewhere are placing undue wear on the arthritic joint. A short leg, hip imbalance, or ankle problem can all contribute to arthritis of the knee. By fixing these dysfunctions, we can slow down or even halt the progression of the deterioration that they are causing.