Genetic Links as Causes of Back Pain and Degenerative Disc Disease

Chronic back pain affects a large number of individuals, and one common cause of this issue is degenerative disc disease. This disease affects nearly five percent of the population, and it can have negative effects in many areas of daily life. There are multiple factors that can contribute to these issues, including environment and genetics, and there are also many steps that can be taken to help reduce the chance of these issues from occurring.


What are the causes of degenerative disc disease?

This issue has been studied by researches for a number of years, and the incidence of this disease has been tied to a number of factors. First of all, age is one of the biggest causes of back pain, as the body begins to break down over time, causing the leaking and dry discs that indicate the disease. However, other issues can also have an impact on your chance of getting the disease and how early it can set in.

Some environmental factors, such as injuries, sports, certain occupations, smoking, prolonged periods of sitting, and others, have been linked to an increased prevalence of back pain. While these factors may have an effect on being diagnosed with and the onset time of the disease, research has also indicated that your genes can play a significant role in the likelihood of a diagnosis.

How are genes related to chronic back pain?

Genetics are the reason that each person looks the way they do, and your genes are responsible for keeping your body healthy and strong by producing the proteins that it needs. Mutations in your genes can directly affect your chances of being diagnosed with certain diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even chronic pain.

One type of protein that your genes are responsible for making is called collagen. These proteins are responsible for supporting and strengthening your bones, skin, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons, and collagen fibers intertwine with one another, which results in strength and stability. Certain differences in some collagen genes have been tied to an increased risk of degenerating discs, as these variations cause the collagen to function less effectively, resulting in decreased stability in the discs.

Aggrecan is another protein that is important for back health, as it functions to support and resist heavy loads. This protein is a key component in cartilage and in the outer layer of intervertebral discs, and variations in these genes can cause premature breakdown of the discs leading to pain and degeneration earlier in life.

Certain inflammatory proteins, known as interleukins, can also play a role in disc degeneration. These proteins function to regulate cell growth and breakdown and cause inflammation responses after injuries. Certain variations of these genes can cause excessive tissue destruction and inflammation, resulting in weaker discs and increased sensitivity and pain.


How is heredity tied to chronic back pain?

A study completed in Utah analyzed the family history of two million Utah residents and found 1,264 cases of disc disease. If a direct family member was diagnosed with a disc disorder, other family members were more than four times more likely to be diagnosed with a similar disorder. An increased rate of occurrence was also seen in third-degree relatives as well. Having family members with a history of disc degeneration could significantly increase your own odds of having a similar issue, and there are many genes that may play a role.

Further evidence of hereditary ties is seen in a study of 2,500 fraternal and identical twins. In this study, researchers measured the environmental factors of each of the participants and noted their degeneration and pain levels. They found that fraternal twins were nearly three times more likely to suffer from pain and other back issues if their twin also suffered from them. An identical twin was six times more likely to exhibit disc disease if their twin exhibited it. Since fraternal twins share half of their DNA and identical twins share their entire DNA, this further shows the close ties between genes and diseases.

How can you prevent degeneration if genes aren’t on your side?

Although you may be more predisposed to having spinal and disc issues in the future due to genetics, there are many steps that you can take to help reduce this risk that will also encourage a healthy lifestyle.

  • Strengthening: Core strengthening of both your abdominal and back muscles is critical, as these provide stability for your body. By having strong core muscles, you can take extra strain off your joints and reduce future back issues.
  • Posture: Posture is critical in all aspects of life, especially if you find yourself sitting at a desk or in a car for long periods of time. Be sure to sit up straight to keep your spine aligned properly, as this can reduce extra stress on your spine and joints.
  • Eat Healthy and Be Active: Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for a good back and for many other aspects of life. Be sure to eat a balanced diet and stay active to meet your fitness and health goals.

Back pain is a common issue, and genes, along with other factors, can play a significant role in whom it affects and when it affects them. However, there are many steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of having back issues in the future and keep your back strong and healthy.

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