When we are in pain or injured, it's easy to feel 'let down' by our bodies. I sustained an ACL injury in my early 30's and it was a pretty devastating time, having to watch my netball team 7 days later lose a Grandfinal and be helpless on the sideline. I had played netball since I was 12 and other than a couple of moderate ankle injuries and 3 babies, I had not missed many games. So when my ACL ruptured, I was pretty quick to blame my genetics - the current tally of family members from my dad's family tree stands at my dad, my brother, 3 first cousins, and now at least 2 second cousins. As far as i know, they were all AFL football or netball related with a fair distribution of males and females, some teens, some older.
So what went wrong? Was it my knee's fault? Do I have dodgy knees like my dad? Or is it the sport that I have chosen to play? Should I have retired earlier?
We human beings like to try and make sense of things. We look for causes, explanations, logical rationalisations that help us come to terms with our experiences of pain and injury. As a physiotherapist, I often have patients tell me that they also look to their family tree for understanding and insight about why they are hurt or in pain - "I've got dad's back" or "Grandma always had terrible hips, so i guess mine will go the same way". Sometimes they are afraid to say it out loud in case the scourge of a lifelong disability descends upon them from their ancestors!!
But is this real, or is our anatomy unique just to us?
There is some evidence that show familial patterns with something like ACL rupture (not great news for my kids) but are these patterns predictive? A study (which you can find here) investigated Hormonal, Genetic, Cognitive Function, Previous Injury, and Extrinsic Risk Factors for ACL injury, and concluded that while several risk factors are associated with increased risk of suffering ACL injury, these risk factors most likely act in combination with anatomic factors - this really means that it is very complicated and multi-facgtorial. Similarly, some familial low back pain studies (here) also suggest development of lower back pain appears to have a genetic component - among other components!!!!
But it is just not that simple.
Our bodies are resilient, adaptive, restorative marvels of creation. So perhaps the most important question is not, "will I have bad knees/back/hips etc like my family members?", but...
"What can I do to reduce ALL of my risk factors for pain and injury?".
Just like I have had to accept that my pale skin from mum means that I must live and breath the Sunsafe lifestyle (I am slowly embracing the hat culture!!), I also need to do all I can to reduce my risk of ongoing musculoskeletal pain and disability - regardless of what my family tree suggests.
When it comes to pain, we must aim to be strong, flexible, agile, rested, within an ideal weight range and in a good headspace. For sports injuries, there is emerging evidence that we can significantly reduce injury risks through the KNEE program or the FIFA11+ soft tissue injury prevention program.
So it doesn't matter what genetics have dealt you, there are so many factors you CAN have an impact on.
Call us if you'd like to start a different chapter in your family history.
(Credit to the Facebook page "GetPT1st" for the hilarious comic above that started this whole blog!).