Battié, Michele C., Levalahti, Esko, Videman, Tapio, Burton, A. Kim and Kaprio, Jaakko (2007) Heritability of lumbar flexibility and the role of disc degeneration and body weight. Journal of Applied Physiology, 104 (2). pp. 379-385. ISSN 87507587

Spinal range of motion is evaluated in assessing patients with back problems and monitoring outcomes, as well as in general fitness assessments. Yet, determinants of the substantial interindividual variation in spinal range of motion are not well understood. Substantial genetic effects on global measures of range of motion and hypermobility have been suggested from earlier studies, but genetic influences specifically on spinal range of motion have not been previously studied. The objectives of the present study were to investigate the relative role of genetic and environmental influences on lumbar range of motion in adult men and the pathways through which genes may influence range of motion. Thus we conducted a classic twin study of 300 monozygotic and dizygotic male twin pairs with consideration of covariates, using standard statistical methods. All subjects underwent a clinical examination, including general anthropometrics, lumbar range of motion, and lumbar MRI to assess disc degeneration, as well as an extensive interview on environmental and behavioral exposures and back pain history. We found the proportion of variance in lumbar range of motion attributable to genetic influences (heritability estimate) to be 47%. The extent of lumbar range of motion in flexion was predominantly determined by genetic influences (64%), while extension was influenced to a somewhat greater degree by environmental and behavioral factors. Statistically significant age-adjusted genetic correlations were found between lumbar extension and disc degeneration variables (ra = –0.38 to –0.43) and between flexion and body weight (ra = –0.33), suggesting two pathways through which genes influence lumbar range of motion

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