A couple of months ago, the Economist released a map (shown below) to illustrate the findings of a worldwide survey conducted out of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation to look at “the burden of disability” across different countries. As clearly marked in the graphic, you can see that lower back pain took the crown for most common causes of disability, globally. See the full study here.
Looking at this map, a question that comes to mind is “why is back pain so prevalent across all of these countries?”
Pointing Fingers at Evolution
Last week, IFL Science offered an explanation to this phenomena with Kimberly Plomp, a human evolution researcher in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University. In the article, they explore the idea of evolution as one of many to blame for our prevalent lower back pain, and how added pressure and stress on our spines is one of the steep costs of the evolution of upright walking.
Our ancestors, as they walked around on all fours, appear to have been in a much better position to disperse stress on the spine and experienced less lower back pain as a result. When our more recent ancestors evolved into bipedalism to adapt to environmental and climate changes some 1.9 million years ago, a change began to take place in the curvature of the spine into what we now call an “S shaped” spine. Though the advantages of walking upright are numerous — such as adaptation to water and land combination climates — it seems, to Kimberly and IFL Science’s point, that this rapid change in evolution may have put us at a disadvantage when it comes to staving off back pain.
The Future of Human Posture
Looking back on the many changes our bodies and postures have gone through to adapt to different environments, climates and survival techniques, we can’t help but wonder “what’s next?”. As we enter an era of sedentary lifestyles and the widespread usage of technology, more and more of us are spending extended hours at our desks, slouched in front of computers and hunching over mobile devices. Looking around, it almost seems as though we’ve devolved from standing tall and upright back to a hunched over position, much like our ape ancestors — except for one key difference: we’re no longer made to comfortably sit or stand like that.
Our upright, S-shaped spines are already putting us at risk of developing lower back pain, but add in multiple hours of sedentary, upper body slouching every day and we’ve pretty much sealed our fate for a lifetime of poor posture and back pain. There’ve already been multiple studies done on the effects of long-term sitting and poor posture, all pointing to increased back pain, lost productivity and even decreased energy. If there’s any such thing as “survival of the fittest” in our modern day society, correcting your posture may be the first step.
Solution to Posture
Correcting a lifetime of poor posture isn’t an easy feat; it takes time, work and energy to maintain the beautiful, upright posture that evolution gifted us and we so carelessly seem to have forgotten. The first step is to remember and understand what good posture is.
Whether you are sitting or standing, make sure to pull your shoulders down and back, lift your head and chin up, open up your chest and back straight. When aiming for good posture, it’s important to avoid hyperextending which can add extra stress on your spine, and to remember to hinge at the waist when you want to lean forward or back. Learn more here.
Once you know what posture to aim for, the challenge becomes maintaining that over an extended period of time without slipping back into old habits. Try setting an alarm every 30 minutes to an hour to help you practice posture mindfulness throughout the day, or get yourself a Lumo Lift to do the reminding for you.
Maintain great posture and start your habit change with Lumo Lift
Lumo Lift is a small lightweight wearable that tracks and coaches you on your posture, as well as tracks daily activity, such as steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned. Compatible with iOS/iPhone, Windows desktop and select Android devices. Free shipping, 30-day money back guarantee and 1 year limited warranty.
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