Comparative and functional anatomy of the mammalian lumbar spine

Anat Rec. 2001 Oct 1;264(2):157-68. doi: 10.1002/ar.1156.


As an essential organ of both weight bearing and locomotion, the spine is subject to the conflict of providing maximal stability while maintaining crucial mobility, in addition to maintaining the integrity of the neural structures. Comparative morphological adaptation of the lumbar spine of mammals, especially in respect to locomotion, has however received only limited scientific attention. Specialised features of the human lumbar spine, have therefore not been adequately highlighted through comparative anatomy. Mathematical averages were determined of 14 measurements taken on each lumbar vertebrae of ten mammalian species (human, chimpanzee, orang-utan, kangaroo, dolphin, seal, Przewalski's horse, cheetah, lama, ibex). The revealed traits are analysed with respect to the differing spinal loading patterns. All examined mammalian lumbar spines suggest an exact accommodation to specific biomechanical demands. The lumbar spine has reacted to flexion in a predominant plane with narrowing of the vertebral bodies in quadrupeds. Torsion of the lumbar spine is withstood by an increase in the transverse distance between the inferior articular processes in the upper lumbar spine in primates, but lower lumbar spine in humans, quadrupeds and the seal. Sagittal zygapophyseal joint areas resist torsion in the seal and humans. Ventral shear is resisted by frontal zygapophyseal joint areas in humans and primates, and dorsal shear by encompassing joints in the ibex. The human fifth lumbar vertebra is remarkable in possessing the largest endplate surface area and the widest distance between the inferior articular processes, as an indicator of the high degree of axial load and torsion in bipedalism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mammals / anatomy & histology*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Species Specificity
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / anatomy & histology
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / physiology