Given my current preoccupation with my failing 70 year old knee joints, I was drawn to a brief piece by Elizabeth Pennisi with the title of this post. Here I give a summary graphic and a few clips of her discussion:
...a number of musculoskeletal issues are traceable to our past, in particular to the switch to walking upright more than 7 million years ago…Shifting from a four-legged support system to a two-legged one put extra stress on the legs and vertebrae. Adaptations in the feet, knees, hips, pelvis, and spine accommodate these forces, but at a cost…vertebrae that break more easily, weaker bones, and feet prone to heel spurs and sprained ankles…A brief tour of the body reveals a number of design flaws, the legacy of our past…
Spine. Back pain is the leading health complaint in the United States. In dogs, horses, and even chimpanzees, the backbone is a series of vertebrae neatly stacked and evenly spaced to form a relatively stiff, gently curving beam…the human spine… is highly flexible and can even bend backward..this flexibility creates wear and tear on joint surfaces and predisposes us to osteoarthritis…One type of break, called spondylolysis, affects about 6% of the U.S. population and is a leading cause of lower-back pain in teenage athletes. In this condition, the neural arch - a triangle of bone that surrounds the spinal cord - detaches from the rest of its vertebra, allowing the spine to slip forward relative to the back of the pelvis, pinching nerves and causing pain…the problem lies in inadequate spacing between the joints connecting the vertebrae.
Feet. To cope with the added load on just two feet, the foot evolved a shock-absorbing arch by bringing what was a grasping big toe into line with the other toes. When that arch fails to form fully, as in people with flat feet, fatigue fractures can result.
Fragile bones. The added load on two feet also caused knee and hip joints to expand, creating more surface area to absorb foot-fall forces. But the joints—and vertebrae as well—evolved to be bigger by enlarging the spongy, inner bone and thinning the hard, outer bone. As a result, human bones are less dense than those of other primates. Bone...loses mass during adulthood. With humans having ever longer life spans, bones, particularly vertebrae, may become fragile and break spontaneously.
Bipedality leaves its mark in other parts of our bodies, too, for example in the difficulty of childbirth and in our vulnerability to rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder. loses mass during adulthood. With humans having ever longer life spans, bones, particularly vertebrae, may become fragile and break spontaneously.