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Can it even be possible where back pain doesn’t exist anymore? Believe it or not, there are some cultures in this world where back pain hardly exists! One indigenous tribe in India reported essentially none, and the discs in those who have aged showed little signs of degeneration.

How can this be?

Esther Gokhale, an acupuncturist in Palo Alto, CA believes she knows why. After living with back pain and surgery to repair a herniated disc herself, she traveled to cultures around the world to learn why they didn’t have huge back pain problems. She went to the mountains in Ecuador, tiny fishing towns in Portugal, and remote villages in West Africa.

She met with women who spent seven to nine hours a day bent over, gathering water chestnuts. They are quite old, but they didn’t have back pain.

What Gokhale discovered was “They have this regal posture, and it’s very compelling.” If you look at an American’s spine from the side, it is S-shaped. It curves at the top and then again at the bottom.

Those two curves are not present in people who don’t have back pain. Gokhale says “That S shape is actually not natural. It’s a J-shaped spine that you want.” She says you see the J-shape spine in Greek statues and in young children.

But is Gokhale right? Have people in Western cultures forgotten the right way to stand? Scientists haven’t proven the correct way just yet. There have been no studies on traditional cultures and lower rates of back pain. It would be helpful to compare the X-rays of indigenous populations to people in the Western world.

Dr. Praveen Mummaneni, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco Spine Center says, “If you have a lot of fat built up in the belly, that could pull your weight forward. That could curve the spine. And people who are thinner probably have less curvature” – and thus a spine more like a J than an S.

Americans are also much less active that indigenous cultures.  A sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability. What Dr. Mummaneni believes is that the J-shaped spine is not quite the ideal one – or the healthiest. It’s the muscle strength that is used to get your spine to look like a J. Core muscle strength is key here.

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