Genes may play a bigger role in back pain than previously thought

Jul 14 2011
Among the many reasons for chronic back pain symptoms, environmental factors like obesity or sedentary lifestyle have garnered much attention, but this doesn't mean that genetic causes should be dismissed.

In fact, a recent study not only highlighted the importance of heredity in developing back pain, but also suggested that there may be multiple genetic causes at play.

Researchers got their first insight into the genetics of back pain more than a decade ago, after observing that certain types of the condition tended to cluster in families. More recently, an international group of British and Israeli scientists analyzed a cohort of 2,500 identical and non-identical female twins to further probe this potential relationship.

Taking into account lifestyle factors such as smoking, weight and physical work, as well as MRI scans of the spine and a history of joint disease, the team concluded that in the non-identical sets of twins, individuals were three times more likely to experience back pain if their sibling did, too.

Meanwhile, the risk grew sixfold for identical twins, who share all of their DNA.

Professor Gregory Livshits of Tel Aviv University's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine said that a common physiological cause of back pain, namely degenerative disc disease, has a strong genetic component, too. However, the genes that predispose individuals to this disease are different from those determining the risk of "regular" back pain.

The results were published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, and the researchers hope that their findings will lead to the development of better, more targeted treatments with as few side effects as possible.

Despite its focus on the genetic risk, the study should not leave Americans with the impression that they cannot do anything to prevent the onset of back pain if the condition runs in their family. In fact, medical experts agree that physical activity, efficient posture while walking or sitting, and a diet that helps maintain proper weight can go a long way towards helping people avoid the condition that may affect their quality of life and be expensive to treat.