In a recent report that has been making the rounds on social media, acupuncturist Esther Gokhale claims to have made a significant discovery about the origins of back pain. In her mission to better understand why certain populations do not report back pain with anywhere near the frequency experienced by Americans, Gokhale traveled to international locations where indigenous populations have minimal contact with urbanization. While individuals in these populations may spend long hours every day engaged in difficult labor that can put significant strain on the back — think carrying heavy loads of water and wood for miles, harvesting plants by hand, or sitting on the ground while weaving — complaints of back pain are an unknown phenomenon.
Gokhale claims that the reason that indigenous populations are less likely to complain about back pain despite engaging in work that can put tremendous strain on the back, comes down to a difference in spinal shape. According to her evaluation, while Westerners are more likely to have S-shaped spines, indigenous people tend to have J-shaped spines. That is, while the spines of Westerners curve out at the shoulders, in towards the stomach, and back out towards to the bottom, the spines of indigenous people are much straighter through the entire length until they curve outwards for the buttocks.
What does Gokhale’s apparent finding actually suggest? There is not a genetic component that makes the backs of some groups of people J-shaped. In fact, this is the spinal shape that is seen in all young children and it is considered a more natural spinal shape. If we work from that supposition, the question becomes how do indigenous populations maintain this healthy posture and why are Westerners not able to do so?
While no significant research has been done based on this Gokhale’s posture theory, one possible reason is a correlation between the J-shaped spine and the strength of the individual’s abdominal muscles. A stronger core is extremely beneficial when it comes to maintaining a healthy spine and avoiding back pain. In contrast, an S-shaped spine is often linked to being sedentary and/or overweight — both common problems in the U.S. When weight collects around the middle, it will pull the spine forward, leading to the commonly observed S-shape. Excess weight also places additional pressure on the back, and without healthy muscles to support it, back pain becomes much more likely.
Gokhale now offers therapy to help individuals achieve the J-shaped posture, but critics point out that what she is really helping people do is strengthen their core muscles, which supports and leads to the J-shaped posture. Though this is important to maintaining a healthy back, especially if you are experiencing chronic pain it is not a panacea. If you are exercising with improper form or engaging in activities that are high impact, you may be inadvertently exacerbating your pain. A proper diagnosis is the first step in getting back your life. Dr. Solomon Kamson and the team at the Spine Institute Northwest can help, with a wide array of pain management options and extensive experience with back and joint pain. Give us a call today!