Load-bearing adaptation of women's spines

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Those of you who have been pregnant, or have been a partner to someone who has been pregnant, are familiar with one among many common consequences: lower back pain. It's not surprising—pregnant women are carrying this low-slung 7kg (15lb) weight, and the closest we males can come to the experience would be pressing a bowling ball to our bellybutton and hauling it around with us everywhere we go. This is the kind of load that can put someone seriously out of balance, and one way we compensate for a forward-projecting load is to increase the curvature of our spines (especially the lumbar spine, or lower back), and throw our shoulders back to move our center of mass (COM) back.

Here's the interesting part: women have changed the shape of individual vertebrae to better enable maintenance of this increased curvature, called lordosis, and fossil australopithecines show a similar variation.

Continue reading "Load-bearing adaptation of women's spines" (on Pharyngula)