Researchers in the United Kingdom recently linked the “Park2” gene to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Degenerative disc disease, or DDD, can manifest as shooting pain into the buttocks/legs, general stiffness and pain in the lower back, and in severe cases, loss of muscle strength (usually on one side) noticeable with daily activities. This discovery begs the question: How preventable and treatable is lumbar DDD if there is an existing genetic link?
In order to answer this question, we do need to consider exactly how genetics play a role in the disease process.
Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia, for example, are genetic diseases that will occur regardless of any other type of influence. This basically means that if you have the proper genetic markers for such a disease, you will unfortunately have the disease. The focus of intervention for Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia largely deals with minimizing the symptoms and idealizing the function of the patient.
Other types of disease, such as adult onset diabetes and many forms of cancer, are less “absolute” in terms of the likelihood that they will occur. It is possible for someone who has a genetic predisposition for colon cancer to never develop colon cancer because of environmental factors, such as exercise and diet.
Lumbar DDD does appear to fall into the latter category: one might indeed be predisposed for DDD if they carry the “Park2” gene, but it is entirely possible to never develop symptoms of DDD if proper environmental preventative measures are taken. This is one great thing about advances in genetic science. We are becoming more able to identify markers for diseases before the disease actually presents itself!
Too often people in the United States use the diagnosis of certain diseases as an excuse to be lazy. In terms of a DDD diagnosis with a genetic link, it would be a terrible idea to avoid taking steps to improve one’s condition. Everyone with DDD ought to strengthen weak core muscles and lessen ergonomic issues that may be contributing to pain.
In conclusion, having modern genetic science at our disposal is incredibly useful. The information however needs to be used in a constructive and preventative manner rather than as a label or an excuse for disability.