Evolution Mismatch is a major reason for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common health problems in the world, with your chances of getting it put at around 80 percent. In a fascinating book by Harvard evolutionary biology professor, Daniel Lieberman — The Story of the Human Body — we learn that if you live in a developed country, your chances of suffering from lower back pain are twice as high as if you live in a developing country.

The reason for this disparity is basically because of the more sedentary lifestyles of humans in advanced economies. We use our bodies less, and our brains more. But the more we sit, and the more we become accustomed to the comforts of modern life such as elevators, baby prams, shopping carts, rolling suitcases, or escalators, the less stress do we put on our muscles, the more we put ourselves at risk of suffering lower back pain.

Multiple problems from our sedentary lifestyles
Multiple problems from our sedentary lifestyles

When we stop using our back muscles, they will start to weaken, particularly the slow twitch muscle fibers which contribute to endurance. Everyone of us has seen a friend or relative whose muscles started to atrophy when they became bed-ridden. A similar, but less obvious process is also happening to our back muscles today.

Prof. Lieberman explains further that lower back pain is the result of an evolutionary mismatch between our bodies and modern life because our hunter-gatherer ancestors used their backs much more in their lives.  They walked for miles to hunt or gather food, usually carrying a moderate load. They also did not sit on chairs much, usually squatting. And they certainly did not have soft comfortable memory foam mattresses to sleep on. The human body adapted to this lifestyle, but once society became more complex, and lifestyles modernised, the evolutionary mismatch began.

Modern day hunter gatherers squatting
Modern day hunter gatherers squatting

To reduce your risk of lower back pain, you should therefore try to sit less, exercise more, stand more and work out your back more. There is a sweet spot between being too sedentary like most of us all are, and the back-breaking, repetitive stress of a farmer or construction worker. This sweet spot was where our hunter-gatherer ancestors existed, and where we have to find, using a combination of exercise, weight-training, yoga or any other kind of physical activity. Good luck!

 

 

 


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