Tensegrity in Animal Osteopathy

Tensegrity in Animal Osteopathy

Chris Bates M.Ost EEBW

When approaching any science or art, a model to understand the presentation before us is required. If one is looking at exactly the same things over and over, then of course the same model will suffice. 

However, from the study of Osteopathic principles, we know that we are never really looking at the same thing twice. Case presentations are as unique as fingerprints and we are required to observe the world through a number of lenses. 

BioTensegrity in Animal Osteopathy

One model that can be particularly useful to consider when dealing with Animal Osteopathy is bio tensegrity. Tensegrity or tensional integrity is where compression and tension work in tandem to create structure. Forces are shared through the combined efforts of push and pull in a way that can create what some refer to as “Floating compression”. 

Above: A commonly used example of tensegrity structure to teach the principle in biology using wooden sticks and string. 

The model is not as simple as just thinking of bone as the sticks and connective tissues as the strings, however. An animal’s body is a massively complex interplay of pressure, gravity, tension, resistance and motion. 

Consider the resistance and motility of the viscera when thinking of the “struts” in the picture above. Fascia is running throughout the body functioning as tension bands and communicating motion to other areas of the body. 

It is even reasonable to consider fluid dynamics within the same model, for example as blood exerts pressure on the arterial walls, the arteries' elasticity provided the tensioning to resist this; in fact this model is how the baroreceptors (pressure receptors) in arteries receive their information and relay information to the higher centers. So, it is obvious that tensegrity is not simple but it can make things easier to see. 

“Time Bombs” - What is This?

Some cases will present as healthy animals that have no veterinary diagnosis and yet owners will be acutely aware that something is not right. These cases are what I tend to call “Time Bombs”.  

They have no lameness or veterinary concern YET, but will often be in a configuration whereby they will eventually lead to a bigger problem. Conventional medical and veterinary thinking can often be focused on symptomatology and the idea that something is “wrong” with the body. 

In Osteopathy we understand that although it might not be nice, it’s not “wrong”… Every condition is serving a purpose, it is doing the best it can with the information and materials provided. 

Transfer of Forces

Tensegrity models help us to see that the “problem” may actually be stemming from forces in another area to where the symptoms are showing. Forces exerted in one part of a tensegrity structure will be distributed and transferred throughout due to the reciprocal nature of the tension and compression. 


So where will the forces “come out”? Where will they overwhelm the system?

The area of least capacity will generally be the point at which symptoms are observed. What do we mean by capacity? The vital reserve, the available resources, capacity or fitness of a tissue, structure or organ will determine how much force it can withstand before failure. 

Examples of Transfer & Area of the Least Capacity

We can see this in horses’ shoulders. The horse has no bony attachment of the forelimb to the spine, it floats in a tensegrity of compression and tension through muscle, tendon, fascia and gravity. 

It can be observed that a hoof imbalance will translate ascending forces that will distort the tensegrity of the shoulder sling. If the horse is young, elderly, unfit, otherwise compromised or experiences a secondary force such as a slip or fall, the shoulder sling may be that point of least capacity and experience injury.

The initial factor leading to the overwhelm however was the hoof imbalance. As Osteopaths, we do not trim or shoe horses unless additionally qualified to do so, but we can recognize these factors and make referrals for the animals. 

Recognition of this can then allow us to work as a team with the correct hoof care. Osteopathic care can then balance and “tune” the tensegrity of the shoulder to its new and more sustainable position as the hoof develops. 

Removing Barriers to Health With Osteopathy

It is not unreasonable to consider that Osteopathic treatment may work as a descending force to gradually assist the dynamic nature of hoof growth in the right direction too. Afterall, through this model we understand that one area affects another. But how might we do that?

Osteopathy addresses the barriers to health. If the shoulder in the above example were lacking in vital reserve and capacity, then treatment would be aimed at removing the barriers to those tissues achieving health. 

We can consider the arterial flow to tissues and decompress areas of resistance, we can use OAB and articular movements to encourage lymphatic pumping, we can consider spinal restrictions at the levels corresponding neurologically with the shoulder/thoracic sling tissues.


Importantly, we must honor our imitations legally and in our scope of practice. However, having an alternative view of an animal’s presentation to other professionals means that we can both treat but also act as holistic advocates for their health. 

Working With Other Professionals as a Team

Interdisciplinary cooperation in the veterinary world is becoming more and more valued by owners and vets alike. With qualification and training in Animal Osteopathy, we can not only directly treat but also educate owners and other professionals in our models and views of animal health. 

Osteopathy teaches us the interplay and reciprocal nature of systems, that should extend to the interplay and reciprocal nature of professions and practitioners. As Animal Osteopathy grows internationally, we can be at the forefront of this cooperation and collaboration. 

For more information on how you can become an animal osteopath, click here

Blog Post written by:
Chris Bates
Osteopath (DO), Equine Therapist and Lecturer at London College of Animal Osteopathy