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Genetic clues to spinal stenosis identified

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Researchers have discovered that certain genetic changes are linked with an increased risk of developing lumbar spinal stenosis.

The study, published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, provides insights into the potential causes of spinal stenosis, a condition in which the space around the spinal canal cord narrows, compressing a section of nerve tissue.

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of spinal stenosis are pain, numbness, weakness and a tingling sensation in one or both legs. This can make walking difficult and painful.

Although it can affect younger people, most cases of spinal stenosis occur in people over the age of 60. As we get older, the bones and tissues that make up the spine can become worn down, leading to a narrowing of the spinal column.

The new research involved 469 participants in Hong Kong. It aimed to identify possible single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) via a genome-wide association study (GWAS) approach and a candidate gene platform that were associated with lumbar developmental spinal stenosis.

Using the anteroposterior bony spinal canal diameter as the quantitative trait, the researchers performed genomic statistical analyses.

Lead author Dr Jason Cheung said: “We finally have a clearer understanding regarding the genetic and developmental background of spinal canal narrowing. The bony spinal canal diameter is a unique phenotype that should not be mistaken for a canal measurement at the level of the disc, where it is highly influenced by disc degeneration features.”

“Our study represents a tremendous leap forward in our understanding of the condition,” added senior author Dr Dino Samartzis. “With a better understanding of the condition and the identification of genetic markers, individuals who are at increased risk can be identified early and preventative measures can be initiated. The information may also help investigators develop more novel and precision-based management options for affected patients.”