Watch CBSN Live

Lower Back Pain And Genetics

A clinical study from Finland published in Science Today reports that about 10 percent of lower back problems could be linked to genetics.

Researchers say that slipped disks especially are related to genetic abnormalities in collagen, which is a structure of the disk.

"The thing that is important is that it doesn't mean the collagen is bad, it just means it's more susceptible to degeneration, a little bit like people who have heart disease -- some people are more susceptible to it," explains CBS News Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy.

After headaches, lower back pain is the most common problem, with some six million people a year visiting their doctors for treatment. Most of the time, the condition is related to muscle strain. Only about 15 percent of cases are linked to disks - the pulpy material between the vertebrae, Dr. Healy says.

"In some of those cases, the disk actually protrudes, it bulges out between the vertebraeÂ…Where you get into trouble, not only because of the pain of it protruding, but it can press on the nerve roots," Dr. Healy says.

The pressure can lead to sciatica, pain that goes into your leg down to your heel. If left untreated, the problem can cause nerve damage.

Fortunately, surgery is not always required for slipped disks.

Most of the time, the patient needs bed rest for no more than four days, with help from painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Doctors used to believe that curing sciatica required weeks of bed rest, but a recent study shows that more than four days in bed can make the problem worse, weakening muscles from disuse.

However, most slipped disk problems are not genetic, and in about 40 percent of the cases, they don't cause pain. But whether you are genetically susceptible to the condition or not, there are ways to prevent it from occurring.

"One of the most important things is strong back muscles," Dr. Healy says.

Exercising can help build those muscles. Problems can also be minimized if the person watches their weight, since that can put pressure on the lower back. Also, avoid lifting heavy objects, maintain good posture, and wear low-heeled shoes, Dr. Healy suggests.

View CBS News In