Have Low Back Pain? Um, You Might Have A Chimp Spine

Photographed by Winnie Au.
It's estimated that at least two-thirds of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. But, you might still be wondering why you're included in that statistic. Well, some new research has a unique idea — people with low back pain may be more likely to also have chimp-like spines.

For the study, published online this week in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers looked at vertebrae samples from 71 ancient humans, 36 chimpanzees, and 15 orangutans. This gave them a total of 197 vertebrae to study. After analyzing the way those bits of spine interact with the rest of the body, the researchers found an intriguing pattern: They could easily distinguish between the vertebrae of healthy humans, chimps, and orangutans. But, it was much harder to tell the difference between the vertebrae of humans and chimps with a specific back problem called a Schmorl's node — a type of hernia occurring between vertebrae that can cause pain (and yes, people still get them).

The researchers concluded that people with spines more closely related to our primate relatives may be more likely to develop issues with back pain. Essentially, this is because they are "less well adapted for bipedalism," the study authors say. Ouch, indeed.

However, this doesn't mean that a certain spine shape is causing those back problems. Back pain is often way more complicated than we suspect and can come from many different sources (including some unexpected ones). This research simply suggests that having a more chimp-like spine might make one more vulnerable to back issues stemming from other causes. To prevent that kind of back pain, keep up those desk stretches and de-stress whenever you can find a few free minutes. Your vertebrae will thank you.

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