Why don’t many Indigenous cultures suffer back pain?

1200x600If you’re like most Americans, then you suffer back pain at some point in your life. Maybe you’re part of the 33% of the population that is afflicted by chronic back pain, or the 50% of working Americans that feel a twinge, ache or pull in their back or neck each year. In fact, it’s one of the most prevalent ailments and exacts a huge toll in lost productivity, sick days, loss of quality of life, strain on relationships, and other health problems. While chiropractic care should be on the front line of treating back pain, too often the traditional medical establishment pushes highly addictive painkillers and risky surgeries.

But back pain is just a part of life and getting older, right? Believe it or not, back pain isn’t necessarily an inherent condition for all human beings. Incredibly, research now reveals that plenty of indigenous cultures throughout the world suffer little or no back pain!

Not only do people of these cultures experience almost no troublesome or chronic back pain, but research shows that the discs in their spines display very little signs of degeneration as they age, as well.

This epiphany started when a woman named Esther Gokhale from Palo Alto, California was stricken with her own debilitating back pain. For two decades, she consulted doctors, was on prescriptions and had surgeries, but none of it seemed to help. So when doctors urged her to have yet another risk or even dangerous spinal procedure, she look abroad for answers.

What she found was that many people from Indigenous cultures around the world suffered little or no back pain. She traveled all over the globe for the next ten years studying how these people stood, walked, worked and rested, as well as other diet, fitness and lifestyle factors. What she found was remarkable:

“I have a picture in my book of these two women who spend seven to nine hours everyday, bent over, gathering water chestnuts,” Gokhale says. “They’re quite old. But the truth is they don’t have a back pain.”

From Ubong tribesmen in Borneo to indigenous tribes in India; from the mountain tribes of Ecuador to villagers in West Africa and natives to tiny fishing towns in Portugal, she found that these people’s spines were essentially a different shape than most people in the west and America.

People in these indigenous cultures had spines that were shaped more like the letter “J” with a straight drop from neck to base and then a natural curve at the buttocks. Conversely, if you look at the typical American spine, they are usually shaped more like the letter “S” with a hump or curvature at the top of the back, too.

“They have this regal posture, and it’s very compelling” Gokhale said.

After taking note and comparing many other factors, Gokhale found that people with this J-Shaped spine rarely suffered back pain. But it’s not that these indigenous cultures had something different – it was the typical American spine that had changed over the decades. When she looked at anatomical drawings from Leonardo da Vinci or a Gray’s Anatomy book from 1901, she found that spines didn’t have that S-shape then, either, but were closer to the J-shape indigenous cultures now display.

It seems that a J-shaped spine is the natural and healthier human form.

“The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It’s what you see in young children. It’s good design,” Gokhale says.

So what has changed with our western or American spines that is causing so much back pain and discomfort?

Further research concluded that a sedentary lifestyle, as we sit at desks and in car seats and office chairs and the like far more, could be a major reason why our spines are more S-shaped now. The lack of physical labor, mobility, and even recent phenomenon like “Text Neck” from people looking down at their smart phones so much are also contributors to reshaping our spines – for the worse.

While Gokhale’s research was comprehensive, it was mostly anecdotal, and there hasn’t been a real scientific or medical study into this theory of natural J-shaped spines among indigenous. But that doesn’t mean that scientists aren’t interested.

“I’d like to go and take X-rays of indigenous populations and compare it to people in the Western world,” says Dr. Praveen Mummaneni, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco’s Spine Center. “I think that would be helpful.”

Mummaneni believes that it’s actually stronger abdominal muscles in indigenous and more active natural cultures that grant them perfect posture and protect their spines from back pain and acute degeneration.

But for most Americans, that strong physical culture has been replaced by sedentary one and overeating – and that means a lot of extra weight and belly fat, resulting in an S-shaped spine.

“If you have a lot of fat built up in the belly, that could pull your weight forward. That could curve the spine,” notes Mummaneni. “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak. And people who are thinner probably have less curvature.”

It looks like getting back to basics with correct posture, a healthy diet, active lifestyle with lots of exercise, and regular chiropractic care can replicate the conditions of these indigenous cultures and result in a straighter, healthier spine without regular back pain.

If you’re suffering from back pain or any other discomfort in your back, neck or limbs, contact us to find out more!