That the human spine can cope so well most of the time with all the demands that are placed upon it is truly a marvel, especially when you consider that its basic design leaves much to be desired. Reduced to its essentials, the spinal column consists of a bunch of building-blocks placed on top of each other and held together by various ligaments and muscles that collectively act somewhat like the guy-ropes that keep a tent up. To make matters worse, not only are the building-blocks not piled neatly and directly one upon the other, they in fact are arranged in curves and bulges, making the whole structure all that more unstable. Additionally, of course, the whole thing has to be able to perform and withstand a whole range of bending, twisting and stretching movements, the muscular guy-ropes keeping it all working smoothly through exerting various carefully balanced forces. As anatomists are wont to remark in appreciation, the spine is, “Truly great engineering …”
Great engineering it may be, but the spine is also poorly designed in that it really is a makeshift arrangement that originally wasn’t meant to do the job it has to do in humans. While the theory of evolution is still hotly debated by some, it is nowadays generally accepted that man’s earliest predecessors walked on four legs instead of two. When a two-legged stance evolved gradually, this was accompanied by major changes in the spine. While these alterations were good enough to enable us to stand and walk in an upright position, the spine’s essential design remained much the same with the net result that it has a number of built-in potential flaws, many of which are responsible for the prevalence of back problems.
While the overall good health of the spine is vital to anyone, the part of it of particular concern for people suffering from sciatica is the lower back, the reason for this being that this is where the lumbar spinal nerves join with the sacral nerves from the spinal cord to form the sciatic nerves.