Science News

Shoulder problems? It may be all in your genes

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People may inherit a genetic predisposition to rotator cuff injury, according to a study presented Thursday at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting in Las Vegas, which found that rotator cuff injury seems to run in families.

Heredity is likely to “play a strong role in determining whether people are at risk for the development of a rotator cuff tear,” study chief Dr. Robert Zaray Tashijian, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, told Reuters Health. “Consequently, individuals may use this information in implementing a preventative program.”

According to Tashijian, only one previous study looked at the heredity component of rotator cuff problems. That study, however, only looked at first degree relatives (such as mothers, sisters or brothers) and thus the findings may have been confounded by environmental factors.

“In order to strongly suggest a genetic predisposition, you need to show an increased relative risk out to third degree relatives,” he explained. “We have actually determined an increased risk out to third cousins -- well beyond third degree relatives.”

The findings stem from an analysis of data in the Utah Population Database, including a total of 3091 adult “case patients” with rotator cuff tears.

Overall, the risk of rotator cuff problems was significantly increased not only in first-degree relatives, but also in second-degree relatives (such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles) of patients. In focusing on 652 subjects younger than 40 years of age, the investigators found that the elevated risk of rotator cuff problems extended out to third degree relatives and beyond.

The results suggest that “if several family members have had rotator cuff tears, it would be very reasonable to institute a rotator cuff stretching and strengthening program in an attempt to prevent a future injury,” Tashijian noted.

As for future research, he said that now that an inherited predisposition has been established, “we would like to determine the genetics of this pattern. We are currently in the process of a new study collecting DNA from patients and family members of patients with rotator cuff tears for future genetic analysis.”