Tendon Issues and Rotator Cuff Tears? It's in the Genes

May 18, 2016 12:00 AM

Author: Robert Z. Tashjian

Richard Z. Tashjian

People with rotator cuff tears often experience other tendon or nerve problems as well, but it has been unclear whether those associated ailments are influenced by genetics or environment. New research shows strong evidence that those “global” tendinopathies in the shoulders, knees, hips and other areas appear to cluster among blood relatives and spouses of people with torn rotator cuffs, suggesting that both genetic and environmental factors are involved.

In a study leveraging de-identified records from the Utah Population Database (UPDB), a storehouse of health and genealogical data on more than 2 million people, and University of Utah Health Care, researchers found that first-degree relatives – parents, siblings, daughters and sons – are almost twice as likely to get global tendon problems or compression neuropathy, a medical condition caused by direct pressure on a single nerve, than people without rotator cuff tears. Second-degree relatives – grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and half-siblings – also face a significantly higher relative risk for developing tendinopathies and compression neuropathies. Even third-degree relatives of people with rotator cuff tears – great-grandparents, great-grandchildren and first cousins – are at a significantly greater risk for getting compression neuropathies and tendinopathies in the hand and/or wrist.

While the risk for tendinopathies and compression neuropathy among relatives indicates a genetic connection to rotator cuff tears, the risk for spouses of people with rotator cuff tears is even stronger, signaling that environmental factors also play a role. The records showed that spouses of those with torn rotator cuffs are almost four times more likely to develop global tendinopathies and compression neuropathies, according to the study.

The researchers also found that people with rotator cuff tears have the greatest risk of all for getting those aches and pains – ranging from nine to 15 times higher for tendinopathies and compression neuropathies than people without the painful tears. 

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