Study shows link between upright locomotion and spinal health

A Simon Fraser University researcher has uncovered what may be the first quantified evidence demonstrating a relationship between upright locomotion and spinal health.

Scientists have long pondered whether there is a link between walking upright and back problems, since people have more back pain than other primates such as chimpanzees, with whom we share 98 per cent of our DNA.

Kimberly Plomp, a post-doctoral fellow and biological anthropologist, spent the past seven years studying ancient bones for the telltale signs of disease and injury that give archaeologists insight into our ancient ancestors’ health and lifestyles.

“Evidence of injury and disease on human skeletons provide archaeologists with valuable insight into our ancestors’ health and lifestyles and can provide a lot of information about the health of a person or a population,” says Plomp, who is working with professor Mark Collard as part of the Human Evolutionary Studies program (HESP).

“For example, in ancient remains we can see evidence of metabolic issues, infectious disease, and trauma related to heavy activities or a rough lifestyle.”

Plomp has investigated the relationship between vertebral shape, upright locomotion and human spinal health, using two-dimensional shape analyses of chimpanzee, orangutan and archaeological human vertebrae (the bones that form the spine.)

“We have found that some characteristics of human vertebrae differ in shape between those individuals who has a lesion called a Schmorl’s node – a small hernia that can occur in the cartilaginous disc between vertebrae,” says Plomp


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