Because of the mystery surrounding human DNA, questions linger about how many diseases and traits pass down through generations. People with bad posture that begins in childhood often wonder whether they possess genes that put them at risk, while adults with back pain tend to write off their suffering as a fact of life. But is there a genetic link between genetics and posture and back pain?
The Difference Between Good and Bad Posture
As the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) explains, good posture refers to the correct alignment of our bodies. Muscles align our bodies and hold us upright, and without posture, we couldn’t stand or move. Most of the time, the subconscious mind oversees posture.
However, bad habits and underlying conditions or pain can contribute to the development of poor posture. Good posture keeps joint surfaces safe, reduces ligament stress and the likelihood of injury, prevents muscle fatigue, and helps avoid muscle strain and pain.
Poor posture, however, leaves people prone to injury, fatigue, and other health conditions. It can even lead to interference with healthy digestion, causing a whole host of other problems inside the body. When your internal muscles are unable to work because you sit hunched over, that can slow digestion and leave you feeling bloated.
Good posture, however, primes your internal systems for health. But how can you ensure proper posture? The ACA advises sitting, standing, and lying according to specific criteria.
When sitting, your feet should rest flat on the floor. You should avoid crossing your legs or ankles and instead keep your feet in front of your knees. A small gap should keep your knees from rubbing or resting on the front of your chair’s seat.
Knees should be at or below hip level, so an adjustable height chair is helpful for people who are outside average height. Chairs should also have lower back support, but if they don’t, consider using a back support or pillow.
When sitting, keep your shoulders relaxed with your forearms parallel to the ground when possible. The ACA also recommends that you avoid sitting in the same position for too long. Instead, take frequent breaks from sitting to move around and stretch.
There’s a reason why shoe inserts have become popular, and it has more to do with posture than foot comfort. You should bear weight primarily on the balls of your feet, not your heels or the sides of your feet.
When standing, your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your knees should have a slight bend. Your shoulders should pull back and your earlobes should line up with your shoulders. In contrast with how most of us stand, the ACA recommends shifting weight from toes to heels or one foot to the other when standing for longer than is comfortable.
The ACA’s guidelines mean you should avoid placing all your weight on one leg, cocking your hip to the side, as this throws your spine out of alignment.
Even the way you lie in bed can impact your posture, but there are a few ways to maintain proper posture even when you sleep. The first is to choose a mattress that fits your body and sleep needs. Softer mattresses or those that shape to the user often help relieve back pain and adapt to the contours of your spine.
Sleep with a pillow and avoid sleeping on your stomach. Choose your side or back if possible, as those positions can help relieve back pain. When sleeping on your side or back, place a pillow between your knees to maintain correct posture.
Common Causes of Back Pain
Although many back pain sufferers begin to feel symptoms after an injury or strain, many others develop back pain with no known explanation. However, bad posture often contributes to back pain, whether people realize it or not.
If you routinely use a smartphone, leaning your head and neck forward, you can develop back pain. If you perform office work and sit at a desk or computer workstation for most of the day, you may notice pain from positional factors.
Unfortunately, most people with back pain have multiple underlying causes at work that contribute to their discomfort. The question is, how big of a part do genetics play in back pain if any?
Genetics Behind Bad Posture
For adults, back pain is often attributed to poor posture or injury. But many children have poor posture today both from environmental and genetic factors. While forward head posture (aka text neck) is often to blame for back pain, around 3 percent of children worldwide have idiopathic scoliosis, according to Current Genomics.
Idiopathic scoliosis is a pediatric spinal deformity that can disfigure a child’s spine and cause pain. For unknown reasons, girls are about five times more likely to have a severe spinal curve than boys are. Other indicators of genetic origins come with studies that investigated sets of twins and their likelihood of developing scoliosis.
Since the gene for severe spinal deformity can evidently be passed through DNA, it makes sense that bad posture may have a genetic link.
The Genetic Link to Back Pain
Science Daily reported on a 2012 study which identified a gene that is responsible for the degeneration of the spine. Lower back pain from lumbar disc degeneration (LDD), where intervertebral discs sustain damage, has ties to the PARK2 gene.
Although researchers note that they need to work more to discover potential “triggers” for the gene, they do know that LDD is an age-related trait. It appears that anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of people with LDD have inherited the condition.
While genetic links influence people’s likelihood of developing conditions like LDD, not everyone can blame their back pain on their DNA. Still, one review from the Journal of electromyography and kinesiology, which surveyed literature reviews, epidemiologic studies, and genetic epidemiologic studies, noted that there is evidence to support a “strong genetic component” to lower back pain.
Hard physical work is also a common link with back pain, but an individual’s likelihood of developing back pain often relies on multiple factors, including environmental and genetic ones.
Recovering from Back Pain
Regardless of the underlying cause of back pain, it’s often possible to find relief without surgery or other significant interventions. Although most people fail to improve their bad posture, starting with small changes each day can put you on the path toward a healthier spine and pain-free life.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that spinal manipulation through chiropractic care, massage, exercise, and physical therapy can provide mild-to-moderate relief from low back pain. In fact, spinal manipulation is as effective as heat, changing your mattress, and taking pain medication.
However, if you continue to slump into bad posture after spinal manipulation, you likely won’t relieve back pain. In combination with appropriate therapy, working on strengthening your core muscles and focusing on appropriate posture can improve your odds of beating back pain.
Although there are genetic causes for back pain, not everyone who suffers from pain can blame it on their genes. Still, there are some conditions with a genetic link that can cause severe back problems. The good news is, correcting bad posture and supporting your core can help relieve back pain regardless of the underlying cause.