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All in the Family Disc Disease: September 17, 2011

The key to lower back disease may be in your genes.

“Looking at siblings, parents, even first, second and third cousins, grandparents - there was a strong tendency towards arthritis of the spine to run in families,” says Dr. Jon Kimball, an orthopedic spine surgeon on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Doctors thought there might be a genetic predisposition for lumbar disc disease or spine arthritis. Now a recent study seems to back it up.

“The study looking at spinal arthritis really confirmed what a lot of practitioners suspected or saw in their practices but we just didn’t have the data and the literature to really support the statements,” says Dr. Kimball.

The family connection interests more than researchers. Doctors find it useful in identifying people and pinpointing their problem.

“If there is a genetic predisposition towards spine arthritis or strictly degenerative disk disease that runs in families, we think that not only will you more likely be able to predict who will develop the problem, I think it will help us act earlier in some patients,” says Dr. Kimball.

Spine arthritis is marked by stiffness and pain.

“And then the problems that come along with arthritis can also include pinched nerves in the neck or lower back and pain that radiates into the arms and legs as a result,” says Dr. Kimball.

Treatment starts with conservative measures.

“That can be simple over-the-counter medicines, prescriptions, and then things such as physical therapy, pain management and then as a last result typically we’ll think about surgery,” says Dr. Kimball.

So finding disc disease in your family tree can give you a leg up on treatment.