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Are Genes To Blame For My Achy Joints?

August 05, 2019

When you first experience joint pain, you may brush it off as something temporary—it’ll go away after a while. But after a few too many cringe-worthy, ouch and ow moments, you realize that annoying joint pain may have settled in for the long haul.

Whether it’s your shoulder, hip, knee or ankle, joint discomfort can be a real pain. What’s even more frustrating is trying to understand what you can do to find relief. Will changing your diet help? What about doing physical therapy? Could a new medication make a difference? With so many factors to consider, it may feel like you’re doomed to have joint pain—almost like it’s something you inherited.

Come to think of it, your dad, aunt and grandpa had the same joint issues, so it must be hereditary—right? Yes. No. Maybe So.

Now before you start tracing your aching joint through your family tree, Michael Shane Smith, MD, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with GMC, provides expert insight into the most common causes of joint pain and the role your genes may play:

1. Osteoarthritis:

While there are close to 100 different types of arthritis, by far the most common is osteoarthritis (OA), which impacts nearly 27 million Americans. Like all types of arthritis, this condition causes pain and inflammation in joints, but it results from the long-term breakdown of cartilage in a joint. “Also known as the wear-and-tear arthritis, OA is common with aging and after an injury,” explains Dr. Smith, “and with the exception of the pain in the affected joint, you typically won’t feel sick.”

In addition to excess weight, injury and overuse, your genes can play a role in your risk of OA. For instance, you may inherit slight joint defects, or joints that are too loose (laxity) making OA more likely.
 

2. Psoriatic arthritis:

For the more than 8 million Americans that have psoriasis, this type of arthritis is a very real health threat. In fact, it’s estimated that 30% of those with psoriasis may also experience joint pain, stiffness and swelling as a result of the condition. Because psoriasis is fundamentally an autoimmune condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, most often impacting the wrists, knees, ankles, even the lower back.


In the case of psoriatic arthritis, the impact of genes is still unclear. While there are inherited genes that can increase your likelihood of having the condition; recent studies suggest that environmental factors are what trigger it to actually develop. That may include chronic infections, the use of certain medications, smoking, stress and/or excess weight.
 

3. Fibromyalgia:

As a condition that impacts muscles and soft tissues all over the body, fibromyalgia can affect your shoulders, hips, knees, ankles—and those are just the joints. With the most common symptom being widespread musculoskeletal pain, it’s no wonder that fibromyalgia actually amplifies and intensifies your body’s pain signals and how your brain processes them.

In addition to common triggers, like stress and anxiety, that may cause a fibromyalgia flare-up, one of the key causes is believed to be genetics. Not only can parents pass on certain genes that impact how you process pain, you may also inherit genes that increase your risk of anxiety and/or depression, both of which can intensify and compound pain.
 

4. Joint Inflammation:

Just because arthritis—the most common cause of joint pain—is known to cause joint inflammation, doesn’t mean there aren’t other culprits that may be to blame. Everything from bursitis, gout, lupus, Lyme disease and tendonitis, can all spur on joint inflammation.


With the exception of bursitis, Lyme disease and tendonitis, which are all the result of environmental factors, it does appear that genetics can play a role in both gout and lupus.
 

5. Injury:

For the most part, you can count on joint injuries to be temporary—albeit painful and difficult. However, even after the long healing process that follows any type of joint injury, you may experience bone bruising, cartilage damage or ligament damage. Not to mention that an injury may also increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, even if it’s been years since your initial injury.

 “Most sport-related injuries involve damage to the joints,” describes Dr. Smith. It’s important to know your limits and not exceed them when exercising or participating in physical activities while maintaining proper care of your joints to preserve long term function.”

Expert care to keep you—and your joints—going strong.

If stiffness, discomfort or pain is becoming a common occurrence for you, your joints may be trying to tell you something. But it can be challenging to decipher just what that is.  “Joint pain from arthritis and other ailments is a major source of disability for my active patients. Whether it’s conservative treatment with physical therapy and injections, or advanced arthroscopic, reconstructive or robotic surgery, we have the capability of restoring our patients to the active lifestyles they desire” says Dr. Smith. 

GMC is offering a free informational breakfast on August 22, 2019, for you to learn more about stopping or reversing the effects of aging joints and embracing your life, pain free. At this breakfast, a panel of expert physicians will openly discuss and answer any and all questions about joint health, while you enjoy a 

Register for this event now by visiting gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/jointrsvp.

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