You have your parents’ tendons

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

You have your parents’ tendons:

A study from Ritsumeikan University, home to one of the top collegiate running programs in Japan, looked at injury risk in 24 elite long-distance runners. The researchers weren’t concerned with mileage levels, shoe type, stretching routines, or any of the usual factors we associate with running injuries. Instead, they were focused on spit.

Over the past decade or so, a series of studies have suggested that certain gene variants can affect the structure of your collagen fibrils, the basic building blocks of tendons and ligaments. Some versions of these genes make you less likely to develop problems like Achilles tendinopathy; others make you more likely. Researchers have found, for example, that rugby players who make it to the elite level are more likely to have the tendon-protective gene variants, presumably because those who don’t are more likely to have their careers derailed by injury.

In the new Japanese study, the athletes were asked about their history of tendon and ligaments inflammations and injuries during their university career, then gave a spit sample for DNA analysis. The injury data was compared to five specific variants in four different genes that have previously been associated with tendon and ligament structure. For three of the five variants, those with the “bad” version were indeed significantly more likely to have suffered tendon and ligament injuries. (The fourth variant didn’t have any predictive value in this group, and the fifth didn’t yield any information because all the runners in the study had the same version of the gene.)

Given previous research, these results aren’t particular surprising. The question is what you do with this information. There are companies that offer personal genetic testing that includes some of these gene variants (COL5A1 was the best predictor in this study), so you can find out your status and…do what, exactly?

In a review of the field a few years ago, some of the leading researchers suggested  that, rather than getting a DNA test, you should simply be aware of whether you have a personal or family history of tendon and ligament injuries. Either way, it’s worth thinking about what you would change in your training if you suddenly discovered that your tendons were, say, 10 or 20 percent more likely to get inflamed compared to the average person. If you think you would start doing more stretching or strengthening or icing or “listening to your body” or whatever, then my question is simple: why aren’t you doing that already?

Leave a Reply