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Tree climbing and human evolution

updated

Tags: fun, biomechanics, stretch, plantar fasciitis, etiology, pro, exercise, self-treatment, treatment, muscle, foot, leg, limbs, pain problems, overuse injury, injury, tendinosis

One article on PainSci cites Venkataraman 2012: Tissue Provocation Therapies

PainSci notes on Venkataraman 2012:

The Twa people of Africa and you will earn amazingly limber calves that allow your ankles to bend half way (45˚) to the shin — two to four times greater than the average urban person! See: Twa man climbs a tree 0:48.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Paleoanthropologists have long argued-often contentiously-about the climbing abilities of early hominins and whether a foot adapted to terrestrial bipedalism constrained regular access to trees. However, some modern humans climb tall trees routinely in pursuit of honey, fruit, and game, often without the aid of tools or support systems. Mortality and morbidity associated with facultative arboreality is expected to favor behaviors and anatomies that facilitate safe and efficient climbing. Here we show that Twa hunter-gatherers use extraordinary ankle dorsiflexion >45°) during climbing, similar to the degree observed in wild chimpanzees. Although we did not detect a skeletal signature of dorsiflexion in museum specimens of climbing hunter-gatherers from the Ituri forest, we did find that climbing by the Twa is associated with longer fibers in the gastrocnemius muscle relative to those of neighboring, nonclimbing agriculturalists. This result suggests that a more excursive calf muscle facilitates climbing with a bipedally adapted ankle and foot by positioning the climber closer to the tree, and it might be among the mechanisms that allow hunter-gatherers to access the canopy safely. Given that we did not find a skeletal correlate for this observed behavior, our results imply that derived aspects of the hominin ankle associated with bipedalism remain compatible with vertical climbing and arboreal resource acquisition. Our findings challenge the persistent arboreal-terrestrial dichotomy that has informed behavioral reconstructions of fossil hominins and highlight the value of using modern humans as models for inferring the limits of hominin arboreality.

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