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Do genetic factors cause back pain?

Do genetic factors cause back pain?

Back pain is a common musculoskeletal disorder that causes a great deal of socioeconomic burden on the healthcare system. If you suffer from back pain, you’re not alone; in fact, up to 80% of the entire population will experience at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime. There are several factors causing back pain: some intrinsic and not alterable (e.g., age) and some extrinsic (e.g., body weight, stress and occupational activities). Recent scientific studies have also suggested that there may be a genetic link to your back pain too. In this Balmain Chiropractic Centre blog, Martin, our resident chiropractor, will discuss whether there is an inherited (i.e., genetic) component to developing back pain.

Back pain overview
Back pain refers to the subjective reporting of pain or discomfort in or around the back. Nonspecific low back pain is the most common subtype of back pain and refers to self-reported pain or discomfort in the lower back in the absence of serious pathology (e.g., cancer or infection) or neurological involvement (e.g., ‘sciatica’ from a spinal disc injury). Lifetime prevalence for back pain is around 80% with up to 60% of the population being affected each year.

Back pain can be classified based on:
– Chronicity (e.g., acute 0-4 days, sub-acute 5-14 days, and chronic >14 days)
– Severity/triage (e.g., nonspecific back pain like those related to muscles and joints vs. radiculopathy/sciatica vs. ‘red flag’ pathological back pain like cancer or infection)
– Tissue in lesion (e.g., muscle vs. intervertebral disc vs. bone)

Back pain is a very complex, multifactorial musculoskeletal disorder; in other words, it can be a challenging disorder to diagnose and manage, because several factors can cause or co-exist with back pain. Back pain is a biopsychosocial disorder, meaning it affects multiple domains of life such as biologically (e.g., injured tissues) and psychosocially (e.g., stress, anxiety and depression). The presence of psychosocial factors with back pain complicates the issue further. This is because it can have a role in lowering the pain threshold, altering tissue healing rates and leads to catastrophisation, a state in which people think their pain is worse that what it actually is and that exercise leads to injury. In fact, the opposite it true in most cases!

Genetic factors and back pain
Scientific research has shown there to be several factors leading to or predisposing you to back pain. Some include your physical activity levels, age, gender, occupational stress and obesity or overweight and pre-existing back pain episodes). However, recent studies have indicated that there might be a genetic (i.e., familial) link to people developing back pain.

Studies have concluded that the likelihood of developing low back pain from degenerative disc disease, i.e., arthritic changes in the intervertebral discs, may be inherited. A study analysed data of 2.4 million Utah, USA residents for their family history and health. The study found 1,264 individuals who were diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, which is a relatively common cause of low back pain. Individuals with an immediate family member (e.g., parent, sibling or child) with disc-related low back pain were 4 times more likely to have low back pain too.

Statistically significant increases in risk were associated with having a second- or third-degree relatively with degenerative disc disease. This finding was particularly relevant because it was thought that more distant relatives were less likely than immediate relatives to share the same environmental risk factors for low back pain.

Is pain related to degree of disc degeneration?
Interestingly, pain does not necessarily correlate to degree of disc degeneration. In other words, there are many people walking about their lives with little to no pain at all who may have moderate to considerable degenerative disc disease; and likewise, there are people who suffer from considerable pain, but have little to no disc degeneration. This notion lead researchers to hypothesise that pain perception may be also driven by genetic factors. Indeed, in the same study, there appeared to be a familial component to whether degenerative disc disease caused symptoms. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests pain susceptibility is inherited, although at this stage no actual pain genes have been identified.

At Balmain Chiropractic Centre, our chiropractors are highly skilled and trained to identify factors leading to a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions and provide evidence-based, individualised treatment plans for patients. Visit us at our Inner West clinic today.

More information
Please visit our website and blog pages for more information on what causes back pain:

Balmain Chiropractic Centre is the chiropractic division of Sydney Spine & Sports Centre.


Room 1 - Shop 86, 24 Buchanan Street Balmain 2041 NSW Australia


Phone (02) 80211172