A woman in her sixties had been consulting me for craniosacral treatment for headaches. For 20 years she had been suffering from debilitating head pain which had not responded to conventional or complementary approaches, including acupuncture and massage.
Her headaches responded to the release of compression in her occipital bone. She experienced almost complete relief by the fourth treatment.
Although she was very pleased, I noticed that there was still a degree of hypertonicity in the cervical musculature contributing to some residual discomfort. She mentioned that 30 years previously she had slipped and fallen forward, hitting her sternum on the edge of a step and that she had experienced occasional soreness in that area ever since. I manually explored the sternum and located a small area of fascial restriction which released easily. When the neck was palpitated again, the muscles had relaxed.
This illustrates three things: firstly, patients forget important aspects of their history; secondly, what may seem trivial may be a maintaining factor in a pattern of dysfunction and thirdly, the interconnectedness of the body.
A modern way of explaining this is to view the organism as a tensegrity structure. Tensegrity is a term coined by the architect, Buckminster Fuller, to describe structures like geodesic domes. These structures are composed of tensile and compressive elements which in the correct combinations, form stable and flexible units.
The human body can be seen as a tensegrity structure, with the bone forming the largely compressive elements and the soft tissues (tendons, muscles, ligaments and fascia) forming the tensile side of the equation.
Tensegrity can be disturbed by trauma or ageing. This is particularly apparent in soft tissues where muscle tone may vary from hypertonicity in acute trauma to hypotonicity in ageing. Similarly, loss of strength and elasticity in other elements of soft tissue will unbalance the whole. This imbalance loads the compression elements and leads to joint and bone dysfunction.
In the case of my patient, an old trauma in a small region of the sternum was affecting the cervical musculature via the fascia and therefore unbalancing the tensegrity system sufficiently to maintain a restriction of motion in that area and, along with the occipital compression, contribute to her long-standing and debilitating headaches.
It is reasonable to postulate that tensegrity is an important factor in maintaining balance at the microscopic level too. Fasciae are found throughout the body, enveloping organs and muscles, lining cavities continuous with the extracellular matrix which has fluid and solid properties, where, according to some scientists, the fluid has a liquid crystalline structure and even into cells and nuclei where cytoskeletal structures are present.
This allows for the intriguing possibility that tensegrity can be maintained and restored by craniosacral work, other bodywork and even detoxification. These can all work together to restore tissue function, even at the smallest level and thus contribute to the maintenance of health.
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For information on training as a craniosacral therapist, contact Jonathan Lawrence, Turning Point Training 01769 579079
Written for Choice Health Mag.