The study of the Neanderthal spine may explain the back-related diseases that people face today.

The authors analyzed the curvature of the spine, which occurs due to wedging or tilting of the vertebrae and intervertebral discs – this is the softer material between the vertebrae.

Neanderthals probably had curved lower backs like humans. But over time, especially after industrialization began in the late 19th century, we see an increase in wedging in the bones of the lower back – this is the change that causes pain.

Scott Williams, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University and one of the paper’s authors.

Much of this data is based on analyzes of modern humans, dating back to the late 19th century—long before industrialization, a process that seriously changed our daily lives. Furniture, for example, became more accessible, and work began at the table.

These changes were accompanied by a reduction in the number of professions that require high activity.

Past research has shown that an increase in low back pain is associated with urban living, especially in environments where employees have to sit a lot.

Scott Williams, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University and one of the paper’s authors.

In other words, studying the spines of people who lived in the post-industrial era, researchers may have mistakenly concluded that the formation of the spine is due to evolutionary development, and not to changes in living and working conditions.

To support this idea, the researchers studied both pre-industrial and post-industrial spines of male and female humans.

Overall, they found that the spines of post-industrial people were more likely to experience lower back wedging than those of pre-industrial people. Moreover, the spine of Neanderthals was significantly different from the spine of post-industrial people, but not from the spine of pre-industrial people. It is noteworthy that scientists did not find differences related to geography in samples of the same era.

Decreased levels of physical activity, poor posture, and use of furniture have resulted in distortion of soft tissue structures. To compensate, our lower back bones have become stronger than those of our pre-industrial and Neanderthal humans, potentially contributing to an increase in lower back pain.

Scott Williams, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at New York University and one of the authors of the paper.