Does Back Pain Run in Families?

Heavy lifting, overuse and middle age are some of the most familiar risk factors for lower back pain. But for many people, predicting a lifetime of lumbar trouble could be as simple as consulting the family tree. A growing number of studies are finding that chronic back pain has a strong genetic component. In the past, researchers who looked at families with multiple back patients had trouble ruling out the environmental factors that relatives often share, like similar lifestyles and careers, or habits like smoking and lack of exercise. Now, however, studies have shown a clear connection.

In one large analysis published in February in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, researchers at the University of Utah used records from a large health and genealogic database to study more than a million Utah residents. As they scoured the data, they focused on people with herniated or degenerating disks — diagnoses that commonly result in chronic pain.

The data showed that having a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle or grandparent) or third-degree relative (cousin) with the condition increased a person’s risk, regardless of environmental factors. And having an immediate family member raised a person’s risk more than four times.

Other studies have strengthened the hypothesis by identifying at least two versions of a gene that produces a collagen protein and appears closely linked to sciatica and disk herniation.

Written By: Annahad O'Connor in the New York Times