Genes and low back pain

My patients sometimes ask me if back pain can be inherited. Apparently, heredity accounts for 40% of back pain and up to 80% of intervertebral disc degeneration.

A major study of 160,000 people by King’s College London found specifically that the PARK2 gene was related to back pain, which, they think occurs when this gene is ‘switched off’. This ‘switching off’ may be caused by diet and lifestyle factors.

View a page about this research on the King’s College website here

Frances Williams, Professor of Genomic Epidemiology at King’s was interviewed on Radio 4’s Inside Health:

You can listen to the programme here

Her research looked at data from 460,000 people from across Europe. She also studied MRI scans of many twins, which clearly show the heritability of structural low back pain. You might think that if it runs in the family, there’s not much you can do about it, but she thinks otherwise.

She says 3 genes have been found which are linked to spinal degeneration, but there is some overlap with genes that are associated with anxiety and depression. That’s not to say that the back pain is only in the mind; she thinks that, rather than just focussing on the anatomical site of pain, it is better to look at the whole person – diet, lifestyle, work stress, activity levels etc.

And of course, according to the relatively new science of epigenetics, diet and lifestyle might be activating or inactivating the genes.

She doesn’t mention osteopathy, but osteopaths have always believed this and have always been holistic in their approach to their patients. My patients are often surprised that I ask them so many questions about their medical history, their activities and their diet. It’s all part of being holistic!

Even though Osteopathy uses a lot of traditional manual therapy techniques, it looks like it’s actually very much at the cutting edge of treatment!!