Modern Medical Consequences of the Ancient Evolution of a Long, Flexible Lumbar Spine

Michael S. Selby, PhD; Austin Gillette, OMS III; Yash Raval, OMS III; Maliha Taufiq, OMS III; and Michael J. Sampson, DO
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: April 3, 2019

Accepted: May 6, 2019

Published: September 1, 2019

J Osteopath Med; 119(9): 622-630

Modern human bipedality is unique and requires lumbar lordosis, whereas chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have short lumbar spines rendering them incapable of lordosis. To facilitate lordosis, humans have longer lumbar spines, greater lumbosacral angle, dorsally wedged lumbar vertebral bodies, and lumbar zygapophyseal joints with both increasingly coronal orientation and further caudal interfacet distances. These features limit modern lower lumbar spine and lumbosacral joint ailments, albeit imperfectly. The more coronal zygapophyseal orientation limits spondylolisthesis, while increasing interfacet distance may limit spondylolysis. Common back pain, particularly in people who are obese or pregnant, may result from increased lumbar lordosis, causing additional mass transfer through the zygapophyseal joints rather than vertebral bodies. Reduction in lumbar lordosis, such as in flatback syndrome from decreased lumbosacral angle, can also cause back pain. Human lumbar lordosis is necessary for placing the trunk atop the pelvis and presents a balancing act not required of our closest primate relatives.

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