If you’ve spoken with your doctor about low back pain, you’ve probably been asked many questions in an effort to understand the cause of your pain. The question of whether or not low back pain runs in your family was likely among these questions. Research has shown that there’s strong evidence to suggest that one’s likelihood of developing spinal disc-related low back pain can be predicted by your family history.
A 2011 study of low back pain in children and adolescents stated that low back pain is almost twice as likely to occur in those who have a family history of low back pain than in those who don’t have a family history of back pain.
In addition to this, according to a study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, many twin studies have been conducted that show family history likely plays a role in the occurrence of symptomatic lumbar disc disease. The purpose of the study was to understand the cause of familial clustering among people diagnosed with lumbar disc herniation and degeneration. Using the Utah Population Database, the researchers were able to analyze the health and genealogic data of over one million Utah residents. Patients who were either diagnosed with lumbar disc disease or herniation were identified and the researchers’ hypothesis of familial clustering was tested. This was done by comparing the average relatedness of individuals suffering from low back pain with expected population relatedness. The researchers found strong evidence showing that heredity contributes to the development of lumbar disc disease and herniation.
Yet another 2017 study found that a “family history of low back pain” is a critical factor in the connection between disc degeneration seen on MRI and pain profiles. As reported by this study, a genetic predisposition to pain likely exists and can explain why some patients develop low back pain.
The Effect of Family History on Low Back Pain
The highest risk of developing low back pain based on family history is among anyone with an immediate family member suffering from spinal disc-related low back pain. In fact, anyone with a parent or sibling with low back pain is four times more likely to develop low back pain. However, for those with only a second- or third-degree relative suffering from low back pain, the risk is much less.
This finding implies that part of what makes family history a predictor of low back pain is an exposure to the same environmental risk factors. In other words, while there are certainly genes that are connected to the development of low back pain, environmental factors may play a role as well.
Unfortunately, it’s still unclear why some patients diagnosed with disc-related low back pain experience severe pain while others don’t. It’s also unclear if people with a family of disc-related low back pain are actually more prone to developing disc issues or simply feel greater pain. While researchers have not found a pain gene, research indicates that pain sensitivity is likely inherited.
The good news is that, even if family history is not on your side, there are ways to prevent disc-related low back pain. Making simple lifestyle choices such as regular low impact exercise that focuses on strengthening your core, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking can go a long way in avoiding the development of low back pain.
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