Review: "The Dawning Age of Genetic Testing for Sports Injuries"

Most athletes view injuries as small obstacles that they must face now and again. Everyone takes a knock or two. But, some athletes face more obstacles than others. Studies show that 50 percent of runners face an injury ever year, but there are those runners for whom a single injury a year would be great, as they generally face one every two months. Why is it that their tendons and ligaments are so much more likely to tear or strain?

According to mounting research, an athlete’s genetic makeup plays an important role in the incidence of injury.

Authors, from Stanford University’s department of developmental biology and genetics published a review article in the January 2015 issue of Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. In it, they stress that research on the genetics of sports injuries “holds great potential for injury prevention for athletes at every level.” In addition, “Genetic testing has the potential to empower athletes with new information that might increase their competitive edge.”

The article adds to a growing body of research about the connection between genes and the tendency to become injured.

For example, the authors, Goodlin et al., reference a previous study titled “Genetic Risk Factors for Anterior Cruciate Ligament Ruptures: COL1A1 gene variant,” which focused on a gene called COL1A1. It is one involved with a certain type of collagen produced by the body. An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is one that is among the most severe types of sports injuries.

This study used 117 Caucasian participants who had surgically diagnosed ACL ruptures and an additional 130 Caucasian participants who didn’t have any history of an ACL injury. All of the participants were genotyped for the COL1A1 gene.

The researchers found that a rare genotype of the COL1A1 gene, called TT was under-represented in the group that had experienced a surgically diagnosed ACL rupture. The people who had the TT variant were much less likely to experience an ACL rupture. Another study regarding the COL1A1 gene had results that indicated that the TT genotype appeared to be protective against acute soft tissue ruptures.

The authors note that “the effect of genetic testing on reducing the incidence of injuries or inducing behavioral changes that will promote health and/or prevent injury” cannot yet be measured. Obviously, there are genetic polymorphisms that are linked to a propensity for injuries or performance related conditions, and doctors and trainers and coaches can use that information to develop training that acknowledges those potential problems. But, there has not yet been enough clinical study to effectively gauge the accuracy of these trainings or their effect on the athletes.