Are Your Genes to Blame for Your Back Problems?

April 26, 2019

DNA strand
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, up to 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. For many, pain results from improper posture, accidents, a sedentary lifestyle or simply age-related changes to the spinal cord itself. But for others, a congenital spinal deformity or other issue tied to your genes may make back pain more likely.

While spinal birth defects certainly contribute to back pain, research indicates that other spinal conditions may be caused by changes in your genes. And while it's possible to find symptom relief with the help of your doctor, living with a spinal condition caused by genetic factors is a lifelong process of symptom management. Your exact treatment plan will depend on your symptoms, your overall health and any other issues you may experience.

How Do Your Genes Cause Spinal Issues?

Genes, which are made up of DNA, are inherited directly from your parents; you get one copy of a gene from your mother and another copy of the same gene from your father. Your genes guide the cells within your body as they complete certain functions.

In some cases, genes trigger spinal cord disorders which may cause significant, long-term pain issues. Scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis are each a type of congenital spinal deformity. These problems change the actual shape of the spinal cord, causing it to curve unnaturally. While some cases are mild, others require intensive treatment to manage the symptoms this curvature causes.

Researchers have identified some genes that appear to be directly related to certain spinal issues. For example, ankylosing spondylitis, a condition resulting in chronic inflammation of the lower spine, seems to be tied to the HLA-B27 gene. Other genes, like COL1A1 and ACAN, appear to play a role in a person's likelihood of developing symptomatic lumbar disc diseases, like intervertebral disc degeneration.

What Symptoms Should You Watch Out for?

People living with milder forms of inherited spinal issues may not experience any symptoms that interfere with daily life. For others, these problems cause significant symptoms which make normal daily routines difficult.

Some inherited conditions, like ankylosing spondylitis, cause symptoms that appear gradually and may get worse over time. You may experience pain, stiffness and a decrease in flexibility as the condition worsens. Other spinal problems, like intervertebral disc degeneration, cause the discs between the bones of the spinal cord to wear away over time. In many cases, this causes significant pain that limits mobility.

Since symptoms may vary so widely from condition to condition, it's important to consult your doctor and do your own research regarding any conditions you may have. That way, you'll know what to expect and won't be caught off-guard.

What Is the Best Treatment for You?

There isn't any one-size-fits-all treatment plan for dealing with spinal birth defects or other types of spinal issues you may have inherited. Your doctor develops your treatment plan based on your diagnosis, symptoms and goals for therapy.

If your inherited spine condition causes only mild symptoms, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatments, including:

  • Braces to help stabilize your spine
  • Exercises to strengthen your spine and improve flexibility
  • Medications to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Simple observation to determine whether your condition worsens over time

Other people benefit from surgery to correct inherited spine problems and relieve pain. In many cases, surgery is offered to people with large deformities, severe curves or those who develop other conditions, like some neurological problems, as a result of their spine issue.

Living with a congenital spinal deformity poses unique challenges, but it's not impossible to manage symptoms. Together with your doctor, you can find effective methods of dealing with an inherited spinal problem so that you can live your healthiest life.

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