A new study out of Norway suggests that children of parents who have chronic musculoskeletal pain have a higher risk for developing similar pain. The study started in 1984 and used health surveys to determine if age, sex or other factors contributed to musculoskeletal pain. The findings suggest that children of parents with pain had a 20-40 percent increased risk of developing similar pain. Specific genetic variables and environmental factors were not isolated, but the important conclusion is there is a relationship between parents with pain and a subsequent occurrence in their children.
As a practitioner in pain, this study has several implications. Pain and the subsequent behaviors often do run in families. Parents can easily model behavior such that children learn the same strategies in coping with adverse events. The behaviors learned are sometimes good, but also can be maladaptive. If parents tend to complain and do not take responsibility for their actions, children often show the same behavior. Genetics also play a role, and psychological problems such as depression, which has a high correlation to pain, also has a high genetic component. Many diseases correlated to pain like rheumatoid arthritis and some aspects of osteoarthritis have genetic components.
Parents often have an influence on good and bad health habits in their children, such as diet, exercise or if the child becomes a smoker. A lack of exercise often contributes to pain and increased incident of injuries due to a lack of muscle condition. Obesity is positively linked to chronic pain, and the eating habits of parents are often taught to their children and they are at an increased risk of becoming obese. Smoking is also positively linked to pain, and parents who smoke often have children who smoke.
Whether the link between parents and children and both having pain is due to genetic or environmental factors is unclear. Both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role, but to what extent is unknown. Some pain is probably genetic, but a lot of pain could be a result of negative learned health behaviors. The long and short of it is, make healthy choices for yourself and for your children.