Biotensegrity: How did the dinosaurs handle the pressure of gravity?

In the seventies, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Levin was visiting the Natural History Museum, watching the dinosaurs.

When looking at the Brachiosaurus he saw a lot of wires holding up the long neck.

Then he suddenly realized that this biological structure is impossible according to the current idea of bones and muscles working in a lever system.

The traditional theory of biological structuring was flawed – and Dr. Levin was intrigued!

Levin discovered that the structural principle called Tensegrity – a combination of words Tension and Integrity – was not only applicable when building bridges – this was the structure of all living biological creatures.

The principle worked on all organisms, from single celled organisms, to quadrupeds and humans – and it actually explained how the dinosaurs could keep their neck up.

Dr Levin coined the term Biotensegrity and this profoundly changed the way we look at how the body is structured, and what keeps it together.

The picture shows The Needle Tower – a fascinating piece of work that is held together and held up because of the tension and equilibrium, tensegrity, created between the different parts.

Biotensegrity – how does it work?

In a biotensegrity system, compression members flow without touching each other in a sea of balanced tension members. When deformed by an outside force the strain is distributed over the whole area – and not only the local place being deformed.

In simple terms, it is a system where hard parts, like bones, and soft parts, like threads of collagen (connective tissue) work together to adsorb, distribute and release force and tension.

The skeleton is not, as previously thought, the hanger on which everything depends, for instance. The skeleton is the numb brace that keeps apart from the fascia layers and stabilizes the connective tissue structures, like Needle Tower in the picture above.

But the body is not as static as the tower in the picture. This is because the body wires, the Fascia, are not two, five or ten in number, but many many more. Some stretched, and some are lax, and they tense and relax at every movement.

You could describe it as the skeleton floating freely in the Fascia however, if the soft tissue is crooked, as a result the skeleton will be bent. If we work to restore and maintain delicate parts, muscles, and connective tissue, we help skeleton float freely inside complex structures.

Dr. Stephen Levin at the Fascia Research Congress, Washington DC 2015

Click the subtitle icon for a subtitled version

In depth: Longer lecture on Biotensegrity

Tom Myers: What is tensegrity?

Tom Myers continues talking about Biotensegrity – a new way of thinking than what we are used to.

A strong and flexible structure

A demonstration of Tensegrity. See how the “ball” bounces and what happens when ONE thread is cut off.

A tensegrity leg

The film shows a biomechanical representation of how leg and foot load and relieve pressure and tension.