We always imagine medicine racing forward, but what if a look back into our evolutionary biology could give us answers to some of the health problems we face today?
Lower back pain is one of the most frequent complaints worldwide, and the World Health Organization has recognized it as a leading cause of disability. Scientists in Scotland, Canada and Iceland have published a study which found that people with lower back pain and other problems are more likely to have a spine shaped similarly to our ape ancestors.
Prof Mark Collard, from the University of Aberdeen and Simon Fraser University in Canada noted in an article for the BBC:
“Our findings show that the vertebrae of humans with disc problems are closer in shape to those of our closest ape relatives, the chimpanzee, than are the vertebrae of humans without disc problems.”
This study compared human, chimpanzee, and orangutan vertebrae to examine links between shape, movement and disc herniation of the spine. Because humans have evolved into a bipedal species (i.e. walking on two legs) the shape of our spine has changed to adapt to our lifestyle as the demand on the vertebrae changed. Researchers noted that humans with lower back pathologies might have a spine that is “less adapted for walking upright.”
The researchers note that the findings of this study have diagnostic and preventative value as practitioners would able predict who is at risk for certain spine injuries or back pain.