If you are an engineer or architect you should be very familiar with this term and possibly impressed that you're reading about it on a doctor's blog. Those of us not in the engineering world this is a very basic and fundamental concept that is very appropriate when explaining the musculoskeletal system.
Tensegrity models are defined as 3 dimensional structures composed of contiguous tension bearing components and noncontiguous compression bearing components. Lost yet? haha, yeah, so was I the first time!! So simply put, the majority of the tensegrity models out there are basically rods (compression) held together vertically by a number of ropes/wires. If you've ever been in a domed stadium (Georgia dome, Tropicana field) theres a good chance you've experienced a practical application of tengrity. The concept was initially proposed by Buckminster Fuller in the 60's, later adapted to human Biology in the works of Dr. Stephen Levin.
To further define the term I'll add this: In the tensegrity model, all components share the load equally. In theory, when the load is unevenly distributed amongst ALL components the system fails and the structure is no longer able to remain upright.
So here's where I apply tensegrity to the anatomy. If you look at the musculoskeletal system through the eyes of tensegrity it should be obvious, don't worry if its not just keep reading. The muscles are the cables constantly under tension that are all connected from head to toe and the bones are the noncontiguous compression components. In other words: The muscles are always at tension and since they are all connected through the anatomical fascial lines they tension is uniform throughout. Bones are more finite in that they start at one joint, end at another and are held together by the muscles.
And now we tie it all together, if you haven't already done so in your head? The body is a tensegral model in all aspects and when you experience any sort of imbalance the tensional components (resting muscle lengths) the system fails, sooner or later. Unlike an architectural tensegral structure, the body doesn't just collapse it hurts! The human body is a dynamic tensegral model that adapts constantly to its environment which allows it to maintain its upright position even in a less than ideal environment. The problem comes in when a sub optimal environment persists or becomes the norm. The body is an amazing adaptive structure that can only handle so much.
The biggest contributors to suboptimal conditions are lifestyle (obesity, sedentary, posture, etc.) and injury (car crash, blunt force trauma, etc.). these events can be sudden or gradual. Either way the result is the same, altered tension and compression ratios. In an effort to maintain functionality the brain implements altered activation patterns that can be performed for short periods of time but when utilized long term they lead to systematic failure, ie pain and dysfunction.
So how do I restore proper function to the system. Chiropractic, not just any chiropractor will do though. If you're in search of long term corrective care it requires a combination of chiropractic adjustments (proper alignment and optimal neurological function) and active movements (exercises) done on a daily basis. Passive modalities (massage, stretching and adjustments alone) do not create stabilizing movement patterns. They feel good and are part of the equation but the best bang for your buck is found in the time you commit to making yourself better. Only you can fix you. I can help guide you down the right path but you're the one who has to put in the time.