Are four legs better than two? Does a jaguar or a panther suffer from lower back pain? Does a giraffe get spondylitis when reaching for leaves at the top of the tree? Is evolving from four legged mammals to two legged, upstanding examples of humanity, the reason why our human skeleton has found it difficult to deal with the stresses and strains of modern life? Does using two legs instead of four, stretching our neck to achieve impossible angles, bending our legs and backs constantly, give us reasons to run to physiotherapists and chiropractors – sometimes on a daily basis? Let’s look back at the evolutionary story that gave rise to the services that physiotherapists and chiropractors offer us today – to repair the damages that the human body had had to put up with over many millennia.
Laying the ground work for physios and chiropractors
Let’s take a walk said one man to another. And therein lies a whole host of problems that have laid us low since the year dot. The history of humanity is replete with health problems – especially those that affect the neck, back and legs. Could this have anything to do with that fact that, genetically speaking, man was not physically designed to get up on his hind legs and starting walking on two limbs instead of four? It might be worth our while to take a short trip into the distant past, when our forebears thought it a great idea to stand up and reach for the stars…or at least the tops of tall trees!
“When our earliest ancestors started walking on two legs, they took the first steps toward becoming human,” said lead researcher Michael Sockol of UC Davis, Jul 20, 2007. According to Sokol, “Fossil and molecular evidence suggests the earliest ancestors of the human family lived in forested areas in equatorial Africa in the late Miocene era some 8 to 10 million years ago, when changes in climate may have increased the distance between food patches. That would have forced early hominids to travel longer distances on the ground and favoured those who could cover more ground using less energy.”*
According to the Smithsonian’s Science/Nature magazine (Aug 6, 2012), “It’s not until the emergence of H. erectus 1.89 million years ago that hominids grew tall, evolved long legs and became completely terrestrial creatures. While the timeline of the evolution of upright walking is well understood, why hominids took their first bipedal steps is not.” **
Walking on two legs separated the first hominids from other apes, but scientists are still puzzling over why our ancestors became bipedal. But, this evolutionary change gave rise to a whole host of problems that have laid hominoids low (literally!) over the centuries.
Back pain: The curse of the modern man
“Back pain is the largest contributor to disability worldwide”, according to the most recent Global Burden of Disease study. This is not surprising as far as health practitioners are concerned. So, why do so many of us suffer from back pain? Research suggests that evolutionary biology has pointers that could help to solve the mysteries of lower back pain. Hence, walking easily and swiftly, is compromised. As is sitting still, in one place, as in offices! Generally, back issues also affect the lower limbs – unless of course we just happen to injure them separately.
Lower back pain can and does affect people of all ages, but according to Kimberly Plomp (a human evolution researcher in the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University), “there are many different factors, including human evolution that could influence whether someone is going to develop pathologies that would lead to back pain.”
Plomp explains that the “’rapid” evolution of humans’ ability to walk on two legs may have a significant impact on human health. The gain of humans walking upright might have come with its own set of pain – namely in the lower back.”
Our ape cousins, because they walk on all fours, are thought to suffer less from back pain as they don’t have the extra stress placed on their back from walking upright. This, in turn, also means less wear and tear on their two sets of limbs instead of on the one set that humans rely on for locomotion. So, when we are laid low by problems with our backs and lower limbs – who do we call? In fact, if you are suffering any sort of muscular or skeletal pain, how do you know what kind of treatment you require? Do you opt for a physiotherapist or decide on going to a chiropractor? Your friends and relatives will give you all kinds of advice. How do your decide? Do you understand the difference between chiropractic techniques and physiotherapy – and which one will suit you best? The physio or the chiropractor?
The difference between the physio and the chiropractor
Chiropractors and physiotherapists treat joints and musculoskeletal problems, with the objective of increasing movement and strength, reducing pain and helping you get back to full function. But the chief distinction between the two disciplines is:
- A chiropractor uses manipulation
- A physiotherapist will use mobilisation techniques
What is chiropractic manipulation?
Chiropractors treat acute and chronic low back and neck pain, sciatica, neck related and tension headaches, neck related dizziness or vertigo and extremity joint conditions – amongst other skeletal ailments. They use their hands to adjust the joints in your spine and limbs when they find signs of restricted movement. Specific manipulation techniques, applied gently, help to restore normal body movement. The objective of chiropractic treatment is to make you move better, more easily and freely.
What is physiotherapy mobilization?
A physiotherapist will treat a patient using a range of manipulation, massage techniques, electrical therapies and exercise – to heal and restore movement. They treat back and neck pain, sciatica, arthritis, swelling in joints, repetitive strain injury, sports injuries and cartilage, ligament and tendon damage. While many of these don’t directly impact the skeleton, they involve a range of muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves that are attached to the bones of the human body. These are what the physio treats and aims to heal.
So, if you are suffering from pain, who do you choose?
If your back or joints feel locked, stiff, and painful – and other treatments have not worked – then a consultation with a chiropractor is a good idea. Soft tissue injury, as well as joint and muscular problems which are restricting movement and causing pain, are most often treated by physiotherapists.
Sometimes, a brief consultation over the phone can determine whether you should see a physiotherapist or chiropractor. However, your first priority should be to get yourself examined professionally, and your medical practitioner will then advice you on which treatment is best for your condition – and refer you accordingly. Both disciplines will also give exercises and advice to help manage injuries and ongoing medical conditions.