“Back Problems Run in My Family!”
“Back problems run in my family!” Have you ever heard someone say this? Doctors have long been skeptical of such comments. After all, about half of us will have serious back pain during our lifetime, so whether or not your mom or dad had back problems there’s a pretty good chance you will have them. Besides, we already know your discs will wear out faster if you smoke, are overweight, or are inactive.
Investigators in multiple studies found that aging and even the presence of signs of herniation of the back discs do not correlate with the presence of back pain, but that some inflammatory chemicals associated with tissue trauma or mental stress, for example, may be responsible for the presence or absence of pain.
So what about family history? Is there any chance that since your mom or dad had back problems, you will also have them? It turns out that genetics researchers have been looking into this question for the better part of the last decade, as a researcher at MSU brought to my attention recently.
It turns out that even before the current wave of genetics research, scientists began finding similarities in disc aging among identical twins.
Then early in 2002, scientists began to look at genes that affect collagens and proteoglycans, (that affect the strength and repair of damaged discs) and began to look at these genes in younger persons before the effects of normal aging and wear and tear would be expected to occur.
By 2007 a breakthrough finding was published in the prestigious biomedical journal Spine, which reported that a type of gene variant, (i.e., allele A26 with 26 repeats) was overrepresented among middle aged persons with early signs of disc aging. Among all occupations, persons with the A26 had significantly higher rates of disc bulging and decreased disc height. This effect was more prominent among carpenters and machine workers as compared with office workers.
Ok, so what does all this stuff mean? Perhaps you were right and we doctors had it wrongJ Maybe if your dad or mom suffered a lot of back pain, you may be more likely to develop back problems after all.
Yet even if further research identifies one or more “back pain genes” and you find you’ve got them, what happens next is up to you. Do you try harder to stay active, lose weight, quit smoking and manage your stress? Or, do you point to your genetic bad luck, throw in the towel, and think nothing you do matters? It may yet be proven that what we do in response to this information is far more important than the knowledge itself. So, just as we discussed in January with genetics and obesity, genes may help explain our present circumstances, but we can overcome these tendencies by choosing chiropractic and living a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Rob Leach
To read an layman’s article in Science Daily about how research of identical twins suggests that genetics may be more important than your job, in predicting aging of your discs: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080408160636.htm