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Can Genetic Factors Cause Back Pain and Migraine?

Published on 23rd October 2020
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Can Genetic Factors Cause Back Pain and Migraine?
  1. Common Medical Issues
  2. Looking for the Connection
  3. Genetics and Migraine
  4. Genetics and Back Pain
  5. Inform Your Doctor
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Some people experience back pain, while others experience migraine headaches. However, some people experience both, prompting medical researchers to investigate whether there are genetic factors involved in both. 

The answer is that it appears they may be connected through genetics in some people, while others experience either back pain or migraine headaches due to genetics. Much more research is needed in areas of genetic spine disease and genetic migraines, but understanding there is a relationship can guide physicians in developing better treatment options.

Common Medical Issues that Interrupt Daily Activities

Back pain can occur anywhere along the spine or in back muscles. The Health Policy Institute says that 65 million people in the United States report they experienced a recent bout of back pain. Sixteen (16) million have chronic back pain. Back pain interferes with the ability of people to work, causing an estimated 83 million days of missed work each year. A study published in the Global Spine Journal found that a family history of low back pain is a major predictor of low back pain.

Migraine is also more prevalent than many realize. The Migraine Research Foundation says that 39 million men, women, and children in the United States experience neurological disease. This is approximately 12 percent of the population. Of interest is the fact that approximately 90 percent of migraine patients have a family history of members experiencing migraines.

Looking for the Connection

Since family history plays a role in migraine and back pain, it was natural for medical researchers to study whether the two medical conditions are connected through genetics. A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain, conducted at the University of Warwick Medical School, did find an association between persistent low back pain and chronic headaches. The study results suggest an association between migraines and chronic back pain.

In fact, a person experiencing one condition is twice as likely to experience the other. The connection is strongest for migraine sufferers. In the past, doctors have looked at these as separate medical conditions that are typically managed by different medical specialties. The suggestion is that:

  • There might be a relationship between how people react to migraine pain and how they react to back pain
  • The brain interprets pain signals differently in people
  • Physical, cognitive-behavioral and psychological treatments used in treating back pain may benefit people who experience chronic headaches
  • Joint treatment approaches may work best, rather than treating each condition separately

Back pain and migraine are appearing to be connected in some people, and genetics may play a role in the connection. More research is needed, but this offers hope to people who suffer from both medical conditions.

Genetics and Migraine

Are migraines genetic? People who suffer from a migraine headache can experience them a few times a year or multiple times each week. Chronic migraine is one that occurs 15 days of headache each month. The Migraine Research Foundation says that 90 percent of the people suffering from migraine headaches do have a family history of migraines.

So are migraines hereditary? It would seem they are, though more research is needed. No single gene has been identified as the cause of migraines, but this type of headache is more common in some families. One study found that a child who has one parent experiencing migraines has an approximate 50 percent risk of developing migraines. A child of two parents experiencing migraines has a 75 percent risk.

Migraine is one of the medical conditions that remain poorly understood. One of the issues is that there is no single cause or trigger of migraines.

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Genetics and Back Pain

Are back problems genetic? There are several medical research projects that have shown a relationship between genes and chronic back pain. In 2011, an oft-quoted study on genetics and lumbar disc disease published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery found evidence that back pain runs in families, and lumbar disc disease is inherited. In 2018, new research conducted by an international team reported that three genes had been identified that are linked to chronic back pain.

It is very likely genetic back problems exist, and researchers are getting closer to pinpointing the genes. What is believed is that some back problems are caused by both genetics and environmental factors. There are genetic back disorders that may be triggered by environmental factors, like ankylosing spondylitis which is likely connected to immune system functioning. Environmental factors impact the immune system.

Studies over the years have also suggested the heritability of back pain ranges from 30-45 percent, and genetic variability influences inflammation, degeneration of the spine, and pain perception.

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Inform Your Doctor

Cervicogenic headaches are headaches caused by a medical condition of the cervical spine (neck). Whether or not genetics is involved, a migraine can be triggered by a neck injury or inflammation or deterioration of a cervical joint. The neck condition does not cause a migraine, believed to be a vascular issue in the brain. It triggers the migraine. 

These are the types of complex situations involving back pain and migraine that continue to be studied. The important thing is to let the doctor who is treating the back pain or migraine know that the other condition exists.

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