Does Race Have an Effect on the Health of Your Spine?

Everywhere in the world, back pain affects a large number of people, and the root of spinal damage can occur due to a wide range of reasons. Back pain can be a result of osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, sciatica, degenerative disc disease, and much more.

However, one question that has been brought up many times is whether a person’s race has any effect on their spine health. We have looked at a few different factors to determine if there are any differences among African American spine health, Asian spine health, Caucasian spine health, and Hispanic spine health.

What Have Studies Shown?

There is a lot of disagreement when it comes to the effect that race has on spinal health, but we have tried to sort through the information in order to gain a better understanding of this relationship. When it comes to the anatomy of the spine, people from all races show little difference in spinal structure, and any differences that are seen do not seem to be race-specific. So, in theory, spinal issues should not be different from race to race.

However, some differences are seen, and many of them seem to be associated with overall health trends, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors. One study examined the likelihood of various diagnoses between African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and Hispanics. The three main spinal issues they looked at were degenerative spondylolisthesis, intervertebral disc herniation, and spinal stenosis.

Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

Degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the vertebrae in the spine slips forward, moving over the top of the vertebrae below it. This is increasingly common as the body ages because the joints begin to break down and have difficulty holding the spine in proper alignment. This most often occurs in the lower back with the lumbar spine.

Researchers found African Americans to be at a higher risk for this disease than other races. They think that this may be due to the fact that African Americans, on average, tend to have a higher body mass index and a more prevalent family history of joint problems. Because of this, African Americans also tend to have a higher number of surgical fusions performed because this treatment is often used to address this issue. 

Intervertebral Disc Herniation

Intervertebral disc herniation occurs when the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae break down and rupture or tear. This causes the fluid inside the discs to leak out, resulting in less cushioning between vertebrae and an increased chance for nerves to become pinched.

Researchers noted that Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians were all more likely to experience this back problem. However, they were unsure as to why this would be the case.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows. This can place lots of pressure on the nerves running down the spine. Most often, stenosis occurs in the neck and lower back, but it can occur at any level of the spine. This disease was seen with nearly equal prevalence across all races.

Healing of Spinal Injuries

While some studies have noted differences in injury prevalence, one thing that remains constant between races is the ability for the body to heal, especially after surgical procedures. A study at Duke observed 60 patients who underwent cervical fusions. They looked at the patients’ pain levels, functionality, and mental state prior to surgery and three, six, and 12 months following their procedure. They found that there were no significant differences in improvement between racial groups at any of these time periods.

Another study found similar results. They evaluated nearly 2,500 patients and showed that African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians all showed nearly identical improvements after both surgical and non-surgical treatment options.

The Search Continues

There is still a lot that needs to be researched and uncovered when it comes to the relationship between spinal health and race. It does appear that certain races may be more likely to be diagnosed with a certain spinal disease, but the exact reasons why are still widely unknown. Further research will need to be done to determine whether there are any potential genetic links between a disease and a particular spinal issue or if a similar link can be found with specific environmental or lifestyle factors.

It has been illustrated by multiple studies that patients of different races seem to respond very similarly to the treatment options that are currently available, which seems to point to the fact that the root cause of certain spinal issues are very similar regardless of race and that these issues can be addressed and treated in a similar manner.

All in All…

Overall, there is still much to be discovered when it comes determining the true impact that race may have on the difference among African American spine health, Asian spine health, Hispanic spine health, and Caucasian spine health.

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