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Is our Human Spine a Hopeless Design?

The subsequent insightful article is a section of our Advanced Yoga Teacher training manual. Instead of merely presenting ideas, its primary purpose is to ignite curiosity, the cornerstone of education.

Something quite astounding happened around 800,000 years ago. Humans developed the ability to make and later control fire. This enlightening moment made human’s smarter and more curious. This resulted in new expressions, new feelings and heightened emotions. All of this has resulted in the grey matter of our brains tripling in size throughout human evolution. We have evolved economically, socially and psychologically. Some have even said that we are at the peak of human evolution.

That is our brain. But what of the human body? And in particular, the human spine?

Has the human spine evolved at the same rate as the human brain? If it hasn’t, which it hasn’t by the way, is that problematic?

If we look around us and do even the smallest amount of research, we will see that we are in the middle of a back pain-demic. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. Some leading experts in the US claim that as much as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some stage in their lives.

Why do we have such high numbers for chronic lower back pain? Is it because our brains have evolved at such an alarming rate, yet our spines stuck in a time where most of the stress we placed on our spine, was hydraulic stress from carrying carcasses and bringing them home to feast?

Is our modern-day human spine designed for sitting and driving for hours on end? For running extremely long distances? For hours of Yoga? For all the sport we play and the stress this applies on our spine? Is the tightly woven fabric of our spinal discs designed to tolerate the flexion stress every time we get paper from the printer or tie our shoelaces?

Research has shown that we have around 25000 flexions in our spine (McGill, 2015) before we start to damage the collagen in our discs. That figure would be much lower if we were flexing our spine under load. So to get some perspective, we are designed to tolerate around 312 regular non-loaded spinal flexions a year. That is 26 spinal flexions per month. Less than one spinal flexion per day. We probably use up our monthly quota by the time we have got out of bed.

Why is the modern human hopelessly susceptible to lower back pain? Is this because our genes come from ancestors who mostly were not even upright homo-sapiens? Remember that some of our ancestors were actually fish.

For the demands of modern-day life, is our human spine a hopeless design?

American Chiropractic Association. 2021. Back Pain Facts and Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 March 2021].

Bryson, B., 2020. The Body: A Guide for Occupants. 3rd ed. England: Black Swan, page 9.

Gordon, R. and Bloxham, S., 2016. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 7 March 2021].

McGill, S, 2015. Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Canada: Human Kinetics, page 143

Noah Harari, Y., 2015. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. 1st ed. England: Vintage, page 13-14

Science Daily. 2012. Evidence that human ancestors used fire one million years ago. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 March 2021].


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