From the relatively sedentary lifestyles common in the modern world to injuries caused by any number of factors, back pain — particularly in the lumbar region — is a common complaint. An additional cause recently researched in the UK is the possibility of genetically linked degenerative disc disease of the lumbar region of the spine, also known as LDD or DDD.
Typical symptoms of DDD include lower back stiffness and shooting pain into the legs and buttocks, while severe cases may include one-sided loss of muscular strength that affects and greatly limits regular daily activities. The newly found link of the “Park2” gene with DDD begs the question of how preventable or treatable this painful condition may be.
Understanding the Nature of Genetic Diseases
Of course, DDD isn’t the only genetically linked disease, so we can take some cues from better-known conditions in order to determine how preventable or treatable DDD may be. Some genetic diseases occur despite any other factors; examples include Sickle Cell Anemia and Cystic Fibrosis. Basically, those born with the genetic markers for those diseases will contract them. As a result of such unfortunate circumstances, interventions for those conditions are limited to minimizing symptoms in order to help the patient function as normally as possible.
Other genetically linked diseases are less absolute: While genetics may increase the likelihood of a person’s contracting them, environmental factors contribute, as well. Examples of this second category include some forms of cancer as well as adult-onset diabetes. Exercise, diet, and other lifestyle choices can either increase or decrease a person’s chances of contracting such diseases.
Considering the Possibility of DDD Prevention
From what we know about the nature of lumbar DDD, it’s more like the second category of genetic diseases described above, than the first. While those who carry the “Park2” gene may be at increased risk of contracting the condition, preventative measures can be successful. (This case is a prime example of how genetic research can be helpful, by the way: By allowing us to identify markers for diseases before they present themselves, we can take preventive measures — usually in the form of environmental, or lifestyle-related, precautions — against contracting them.)
While many U.S. patients use the diagnosis of some diseases as excuses to become lazy about lifestyle choices, knowing about one’s genetic predisposition to or even the diagnosis of DDD should have the opposite effect. As either preventative or symptom-alleviating measures, strengthening weak core muscles and lessening ergonomic issues will benefit the patient and lessen any pain.
Thanks to modern genetic science, we can do more than label patients or give excuses for disabilities; we can use our new-found knowledge in a constructive way, preventing diseases we formerly lacked the knowledge of how to prevent.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
Image credits: Top by maximino gomes / Fotolia; Bottom by Daniel Heywood / Fotolia.