To be monkey is a pain.

You might not know that “monkey”, in Spanish, has two different meanings, beauty and the funny animal. In this case, I will leave aside the beauty and focus on the animal, more specifically, the chimpanzee.

A few days ago, I received a message from a friend who lives in London and this message referred to an article she read on the BBC about back pain and its relationship with chimpanzees. I thought this article would be of interest to The Physical Therapy´s readers, so I leave you here the link: The ancestral shape hypothesis: an evolutionary explanation for the occurrence of intervertebral disc herniation in humans (shared under CC BY 4.0) , written by Kimberly A. Plomp et al.

I have read various theories about back pain, its relationship with modern times and the fact that we walk upright, leaving aside walking on all fours. “If we weren´t walk on all fours, we wouldn´t have so many back problems” some people say. Yes, and if it rained money, no one would work. Being bipedal is a progress, but it requires a long period of adaptation.

Take a look at this interesting article from the Daily Mail to realise that evolution isn’t sometimes such.
Schmorl's node

Schmorl’s node. J. Lengerke

The article that made me write this blog post says that there is a relationship between having disc herniations (injury of the disc that we have between vertebrae) and a specific vertebra shape. The most interesting thing is that, apparently, the more similar your spine is to the chimpanzee spine, the more likely you are to get disc herniations. From which we could interpret that the less your spine is adapted to bipedalism (walking upright instead of on all fours), more likely you are to get disc herniations.

In this study they say that vertebrae of humans who have Schmorl´s nodes are more similar to the chimpanzee vertebrae, than vertebrae of humans who have not Schmorl´s nodes. These nodules are protrusions of the intervertebral disc which moves into the body of the vertebra immediately above or below and is, therefore, considered as a variety of disc herniation and is also called vertical disc herniation (see picture for better understanding).

Compared chimpanzee vertebrae and human vertebrae, with the above-mentioned disc herniation, to healthy humans, the first two tend to present with smaller neural foramina (hole, in vertebrae, for your nerves to be able to reach other areas of your body), wider and shorter pedicles and more shovel-shape vertebral bodies (see photo below to understand what all these strange words are about).

Lumbar vertebra

Vertebra. Henry Vandyke Carter

If you think about it carefully, this study goes far beyond curiosity arouses, this could have a major impact at clinical level and be used to predict who will have disc problems, to put them in preventive treatment groups. Perhaps, this is a great step forward in the fight against back problems, which are part of our daily lives and seem to worsen with new technology and physical inactivity.

I hope you find this blog post interesting. All comments will be welcome, either doubts or opinions.

Photos: Schmorl´s node, J. Lengerke, 2010 (CET) (Praxis Dr. Jochen Lengerke) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Vertebra, Henry Vandyke Carter (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons. Photo at the top: CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay.

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