Back Pain Linked With Ancestral Ape Vertebral Shape

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the Clinical Pain Advisor take:

(The study below) is an interesting finding and the conclusions that the authors are making, if correct, may have huge implications for risk stratification, identifying populations at risk, and preventing or minimizing disability.

This information, if available to employers or insurance providers, may affect a lot more than healthcare. 

Yet, it is still not surprising to find that anatomical variations may put certain populations at risk for specific medical conditions.

- David Rosenblum, MD

Director of Pain Medicine

Dept. of Anesthesiology

Maimonides Medical Center


Clinical Pain Advisor Editorial Advisory Board Member

Further research will use 3D shape studies to assess the link.
Further research will use 3D shape studies to assess the link.

A team of bioarchaeologists think they may have discovered the first quantified evidence showing a relationship between upright locomotion and spinal health.

They have found that those with lower back problems are more likely to have a spine shape similar to that of our closest ape ancestors, identifying for the first time that the way in which humans evolved plays a critical role in this painful complaint.

Kimberly Plomp, a postdoctoral researcher in the Human Evolutionary Studies Program at Simon Fraser University, and researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Iceland used two-dimensional shape analyses of the vertebrae of chimpanzees, orangutans and archaeological humans to investigate the relationship between vertebral shape, upright locomotion and human spinal health.

Plomp noted in a press release: “We found that some characteristics of human vertebrae differ in shape between those individuals that have a lesion called a Schmorl's node – a small hernia that can occur in the cartilaginous disc between the vertebrae. The humans that have Schmorl's nodes tend to have a shape that is statistically indistinguishable from chimpanzee vertebrae."

The researchers noted: "evolution is not perfect and some vertebral characteristics, such as the ones we identified as being similar to chimpanzees, may have remained within the human ‘blueprint' and result in some people having vertebrae that are less able to withstand the pressures of bipedal walking."

The team has called this the ‘ancestral shape hypothesis' and plan to undertake further investigations using 3D shape studies of ancient and modern human and primate vertebrae, and include other spinal diseases, such as osteoarthritis.


1. Plomp KA, et al. BMC Evolution Bio. 2015; 15:68. 

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