Spondylolysis and Spinal Adaptations for Bipedalism: The Overshoot Hypothesis

Peer reviewed: 
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Faculty/Staff
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Kimberly A Plomp, Keith Dobney, Mark Collard, Spondylolysis and spinal adaptations for bipedalism: The overshoot hypothesis, Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, Volume 2020, Issue 1, 2020, Pages 35–44. DOI: 10.1093/emph/eoaa003.

Date created: 
2020-03-03
Keywords: 
Vertebrae
Spinal pathology
Schmorl’s nodes
Chimpanzee
Gorilla
Orangutan
Abstract: 

Background and objectives

The study reported here focused on the aetiology of spondylolysis, a vertebral pathology usually caused by a fatigue fracture. The goal was to test the Overshoot Hypothesis, which proposes that people develop spondylolysis because their vertebral shape is at the highly derived end of the range of variation within Homo sapiens.

Methodology

We recorded 3D data on the final lumbar vertebrae of H. sapiens and three great ape species, and performed three analyses. First, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis. Second, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to great ape vertebrae. Lastly, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to great ape vertebrae and to vertebrae of H. sapiens with Schmorl’s nodes, which previous studies have shown tend to be located at the ancestral end of the range of H. sapiens shape variation.

Results

We found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are significantly different in shape from healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. We also found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are more distant from great ape vertebrae than are healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. Lastly, we found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are at the opposite end of the range of shape variation than vertebrae with Schmorl’s nodes.

Conclusions

Our findings indicate that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis tend to exhibit highly derived traits and therefore support the Overshoot Hypothesis. Spondylolysis, it appears, is linked to our lineage’s evolutionary history, especially its shift from quadrupedalism to bipedalism.

Lay summary: Spondylolysis is a relatively common vertebral pathology usually caused by a fatigue fracture. There is reason to think that it might be connected with our lineage’s evolutionary shift from walking on all fours to walking on two legs. We tested this idea by comparing human vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to the vertebrae of great apes. Our results support the hypothesis. They suggest that people who experience spondylolysis have vertebrae with what are effectively exaggerated adaptations for bipedalism.

Language: 
English
Document type: 
Article
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