Genetics point towards a holistic approach to back pain

Did you know that you can inherit back pain? A research team from Kings College London and the University of Washington have just published a study that investigated whether genes had any influence on long-term back pain, and the results were surprising.

It is thought that about 40% of all back pain is heritable, that is related to the expression of inherited genetic factors and that degeneration of the spine is 70-80% heritable.

The study looked at 440,000 people who had back pain for less than 12 months and they found that only three genes were related to back pain itself. It was anticipated that these genes would be related to how the body perceives pain but in fact they were related to the development of the spine and the discs, and were implicated with sciatica.

Researchers were surprised to find out that the genes associated with back pain overlapped with those related to anxiety and depression.

Professor Frances Williams, the lead researcher, said that ‘We should be taking a very much more holistic approach to managing back pain and not focusing on the precise anatomical trigger through imaging and X-rays, but actually looking more broadly at the whole individual, and at their occupation, lifestyle and psychological factors’.

Professor Williams advocates accepting degeneration of the spine as a normal process of aging and the important part is how we respond to any pain. She said ‘We should look at the whole person and manage the whole problem, considering the effects on mood, on sleep, on people’s anxiety around their occupation or day-to-day activities that they are not managing to complete’.

You can find out more about this study by clicking here.

The outlook of the researchers reflects the approach an acupuncturist takes when considering how best to treat a person with back pain. We ask many questions that may seem to have no relationship to the problem but they are essential in helping us build a picture of that individual and how they cope with the impact the pain has on their lives. It is through this careful questioning that we can select acupuncture points that will help the person achieve the results they want.


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