Are Genes to Blame for Achy Joints?

Joints are the connections between bones that provide the support and range of motion that we need to run, walk, jump, and move. If you begin to experience achy joints that make every day movement painful, it can go from mildly irritating to completely debilitating. While acute injury can be the cause of some joint pain, most chronic joint pain is the result of arthritic conditions like osteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritis, or gout. While old-age, obesity, and injury are all risk factors for developing joint disease, new research suggests that the cause of these conditions could be your family tree.

Linking Joint Pain and Genetics  

With joint pain being extremely common, especially in sports medicine, it is important to understand that joint pain could be the result of an inherited condition. Understanding the genetic causes of joint pain could aid in prevention and treatment techniques of arthritic conditions. Let’s discuss the two most common types of arthritis and how a genetic predisposition could be behind them.

Osteoarthritis

Arthritis, or inflammation of a joint, is a term that can be applied to a wide variety of joint disorders and is the number one cause of joint pain. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which results from the long-term breakdown of a joint. OA is most common in older adults, as a result of years of “wear-and-tear,” injury or obesity. However, development of OA at a young age could be the cause of a rare, inherited condition known as familial osteochondritis dissecans. This condition affects the joints and is associated with abnormal cartilage that causes multiple lesions, or areas of bone damage, to several joints like the knees, elbows, hips, and ankles. The lesions cause the affected joints to feel like it is locking during movement, resulting in stiffness, pain and swelling in the joint. Familial osteochondritis dissecansis inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning that in most cases, the affected person has one parent with the condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

The second most common type of arthritis is known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that causes your body to mistakenly attack the cartilage lining your joints. The exact cause of RA is unclear, but researchers suggest that the presence of certain genes and a family history of RA may increase your risk of developing this autoimmune disorder. A study by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society found that first degree relatives of individuals with RA (parent, sibling, or child) were approximately three times more likely to develop the disease than the general population. There have also been findings that suggest having certain genes that control the body’s immune responses can increase your risk for developing RA. One of the most significant genetic risk factors for RA is the presence of the HLA gene site, which is responsible for distinguishing between your body’s proteins and the proteins of an infection. A person with this genetic marker is five times more likely to develop RA than someone who does not. 

Significance of Genetic Markers and Joint Pain

A study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, found that there is a small amino acid peptide that acts as a chemical messenger in our bodies that contributes to the pain and inflammation of chronic arthritis. This peptide, known as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), has been found in high levels in those who suffer from arthritis and migraines. Implications of these findings have led to research in anti-CGRP treatments that target and neutralize the receptors of CGRP, in order to prevent pain and inflammation.

So why is this important? Being able to identify the genes that are involved in joint diseases could revolutionize treatment of joint pain. Researchers may be able to develop new medications that target specific proteins that are produced by the genes that cause arthritis. Through genetic testing, doctors can predict an individual’s risk of developing joint diseases and may be able to implement preventive treatment before the joint pain gets too severe. These types of findings could save people years, even lifetimes, of chronic pain and joint damage.

If you are suffering from joint pain and want to learn more about pain management or treatment options, make an appointment with a specialist at The Woodlands today.

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