A new study has found that people with low back pain are more likely to have spine similarities to chimpanzees, in particular a small lesion between vertebrae in the lower back that changes the shape of the spine.
The research team, comprised of scientists from Canada, Iceland and Scotland, compared vertebrae from chimps, orangutans and ancient humans to clarify the relationships between spinal shape, upright movement and spine health.
“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,” Mark Collard, of the University of Aberdeen and Simon Fraser University in Canada, said.
The team says this provides insight on evolution; over time, some people may have evolved better than others to an upright posture. “Our study suggests that the pathological vertebrae of some people may be less well adapted for walking upright,” Collard explained.
The researchers also believe their study demonstrates the relevance of evolutionary biology to medical treatment.
“Our study’s support for the ancestral shape hypothesis not only has clinical implications, but also provides another illustration of the benefits of bringing the conceptual and analytical tools of evolutionary biology to bear on problems in medicine and public health,” the report’s authors concluded.
Low back pain is a serious concern both in the U.S. and abroad. Approximately a quarter of American adults report having low back pain lasting at least one day in the last three months, with 7.6% reporting at least one episode of severe and acute low back pain in the last year. Low back pain is also the leading cause of disability around the world.
The researchers suggest that their findings could be used as a predictive tool to determine who is most likely to suffer from serious back problems later in life.
The study was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology April 27, and is available for free online.