EVOLUTION AND THE SPINE
Our winnings in the evolutionary lottery are numerous. We have a huge pre-frontal cortex capable of logic and reason, the world around us is something we can manipulate at will (more or less), and our position at the top of the food chain is undisputed.
Yet, when it comes to back pain, we can blame our ape ancestors for not having the foresight to change the shape of our spines. Originally designed for walking on all fours, our spines never quite made the adjustment to bipedal movement. Our monkey predecessors also didn’t factor in the internet, and all those hours we now spend sitting at a desk interacting with it.
This is certainly reflected in the statistics, with 16% of the Australian population reporting that they experienced back problems in 2017-2018.
Yes, we are genetically predisposed to lower back pain, and yes, the working environment doesn’t help, but not all hope is lost! Thanks to our big frontal cortex, we may be able to compensate with a few strategies devised by experts to minimise lower back pain.
The first step is to identify instances that may cause lower back pain within the workplace. Excessive mechanical stress can damage the spine. This results from lifting heavy objects, or from sudden awkward movements.
The situation gets worse when these movements are repeated. An acute issue quickly turns chronic if it is not addressed properly. Finally, inactivity from sitting at the desk can cause discomfort, especially if posture is poor.
So, how can it be avoided?
To avoid excessive mechanical stress, we need to turn down our primitive urges to prove ourselves and ask for help when lifting heavy things. It is also important to learn the correct technique for lifting - by bearing the brunt of the weight through your legs/arms, and not your back!
If tasks are repetitive, modify them or reduce their frequency. When it comes to inactivity, you can work to improve posture, with several studies correlating good posture with a reduction in lower back pain.
Another option is to invest in a brace, a marvel of the human’s problem-solving frontal cortex! Back braces promote the activation of core and back muscles, and support healthy posture. The LumboTrain Back Brace by Bauerfeind works to improve posture, even during yoga and other types of exercise.
Bauerfeind’s LumboTrain Back Brace features a gel pad with 26 massaging nubs, which helps to relieve pain in the lumbar region during movement. Produced from a light and breathable material, this back support is fitted to the spine’s natural curvature to provide all day comfort and help with postural adjustment.
Back pain is no joke though, and it is important to consult the right medical professionals about its management. Most cases are unique to the individual, with an interplay of genetic and lifestyle factors that must be addressed. If in the mood to explore some of these complexities, watch this very comprehensive Ted talk by physical therapist Sid Anandkumar, but don’t slump at your chair while you do it!
- Crompton R, Vereecke E, Thorpe S (2008). Locomotion and Posture From the Common Hominoid Ancestor to Fully Modern Hominins, with Special Reference to the Last Common Panin/Hominin Ancestory. Journal of Anatomy 212:501-543.
- Steenstra I, et al. (2017). Systematic Review of Prognostic Factors for Return to Work in Workers with Sub-Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 27:369-381.
- Thompson N, Almecija S (2017). The Evolution of Vertebral Formulae in Hominoidea. Journal of Human Evolution 110:18-36.