Is Being Prone to Injury a Genetic Thing?

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Everyone knows someone who always seems to be getting injured, and, someone who puts great demands on their body who never seems to get injured.  There are all kinds of reasons for this, many of which have been discussed in this blog, from good biomechanics, to addressing small issues when they come up, to getting adequate exercise, to metabolic syndrome and diet. These are the things we can control. But is there a genetic component to being prone to injury?  Armed with recent genetic testing advances, a research team looked at a pool of people with the most to gain or lose – professional athletes.

The musculoskeletal system is really like a biological machine, made up of hardware and software – and both are necessary for proper functioning. The hardware is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and nerves. The software is a very elaborate chemical signaling system which through nerves cause the tendons and ligaments to move the bones, very much like the operating system and programs on your computer make it possible to utilize all of the hardware built in to it. Given that most athletic injuries tend to be tendon and ligament injury, genes that control the production of someone’s collagen, which is what tendons and ligaments are made of, is a good place to look for possible genetic anomalies.

A recent review study looked at several previous scientific investigations of athletes looking at different collagen and bone density genetic variations to look for links between them, and types of injuries. Variations of the COL5A1  collagen gene was linked to increased tendency for ACL and Achilles tendon rupture and exercise induced muscle cramping. Variations of the COL1A1 collagen gene was linked to soft tissue injuries including ACL tears, Achilles tendon rupture and shoulder dislocation. Bone density genetic markers were also identified which were associated with increased incidence of bone fracture.

The upshot? It looks likely that there is a genetic component to why certain people are more prone to injury than others. Having this knowledge will bring up some interesting dilemmas like whether athletes should be screened while they’re young for genetic defects. You could certainly foresee a time where making the team may be a combination of having the right skills and the right genes. We could see the future NFL start to report the 40 yard dash time, vertical leap, and genetic injury mutations! While all of this sounds horrible, sort of like eugenics 2.0, we already do this everyday when a smaller kid (with genes that made him that way) gets passed over for the bigger kid in football, or the spectacular college athlete gets passed over in the draft because he’s had consistent injuries throughout his career.

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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