Lower back pain is a common health issue that is generally attributed to spinal disc degeneration. However, a European project called Genodisc is currently researching the link between human genes and lower back pain, looking for answers that the most common theory cannot provide.
Jill Urban of Oxford University acts as coordinator of the project, which involves ten laboratories across Europe and has received almost €3 million in funding from the European Commission. Data collection was completed last year and the researchers are now analysing the information. In an interview for youris.com, Urban shared her views on the link between genes and lower back pain and some myths surrounding this health issue.
There are a number of misconceptions with regard to back pain, Urban noted. The most widespread among them is that lower back pain is invariably the result of early disc degeneration. However, this theory fails to explain why many people with damaged discs have no problems with their backs.
Urban stated further that research conducted over the past two decades has led to some major breakthroughs. Among them is the realisation that spine injury is only one piece in the back pain puzzle. As a study of Finnish twins established 20 years ago, people with the same genetic make-up can experience similar spine problems even when their backs are subjected to different strain at work. This finding was confirmed by similar studies in other countries. It provides strong evidence that genetics is closely linked to lower back pain and Urban´s team is now working to identify the genes responsible for painful disc degeneration.
However, Urban admits that the project has its challenges. Given the complexity of the back pain disorder, many genes are bound to be involved and the researchers are basically working blindfold. Moreover, there is a very limited amount of scientific work to fall back on, she added.