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Backache? Blame your genes

Published On: Sun, Sep 23rd, 2012 | Genetics | By IANS

If you suffer chronic lower backache, then blame your genes, not the lumbar disc generation (LDD) that has long been suspected of being its prime cause, say experts.

These discs, which cushion the vertebrae or the backbone, can end up getting squashed and bulging out. Bony growths can also emerge from the spinal column itself and trigger backache.

A team led by Frances Williams, genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, has found a new gene implicated in back degeneration called PARK2, which could potentially open the way to new treatments.

They discovered it by looking for signs of LDD in back scans of 4,600 people, and then sifting their entire genomes for clues.

“The impact of hereditary (genetic) factors on LDD is remarkably high. In the 70s and 80s the Scandinavians spent millions looking for all the occupations which caused back pain (sic), but they couldn’t find them,” said Williams, the Telegraph reports.

Studies of identical twins who went into different professions – like truck driving and being a physical education teacher – showed that both ended up with similarly bad lumbar disk degeneration in later life.

“Actually, the main variation is caused by genetic factors,” she said.

However, the relationship between physical degeneration and long-term (chronic) backache is complicated. “Everybody gets LDD at some point, it’s like going grey. But not everybody gets back pain (sic),” Williams said.

Those with more serious physical degeneration are more likely to get chronic backache, but plenty of those whose LDD looks bad feel fine, and vice-versa.

Williams said genetic studies did not claim to reveal the whole picture, and said people should still take care of their general health to minimise the chance of backache, in particular avoiding smoking and piling on the pounds.

“Sitting up straight and exercising won’t change the way your discs change, but they might help you develop good muscular strength to keep a pain-free spine and back,” Williams said.

Reference:
Williams FM, Bansal AT, van Meurs JB, Bell JT, Meulenbelt I, Suri P,Rivadeneira F, Sambrook PN, Hofman A, Bierma-Zeinstra S, Menni C, Kloppenburg M,Slagboom PE, Hunter DJ, Macgregor AJ, Uitterlinden AG, Spector TD. Novel genetic variants associated with lumbar disc degeneration in northern Europeans: a
meta-analysis of 4600 subjects. Ann Rheum Dis. 2012 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22993228.

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