Sports Injury Genes

Do Sports Injury Genes Determine Your Fitness?

Sports injury genes could change your future.

Imagine this scenario. You try to register for your hockey team as you do every year. But the league has a new policy: All players must report to a health center to get their mouths swabbed. A couple of days later, you get a call. “You’re positive for ApoE4. We’re sorry, but because of liability rules, you can’t play in this league. In fact, you shouldn’t play hockey anywhere.”

It sounds like the latest dystopian novel, but researchers are finding more and more genes that help determine your risk for sports injury.

The technology for detecting the gene variation ApoE4 (apolipoprotein E ε-4) already exists. And there is strong evidence that ApoE4 makes people at much greater risk of brain injury if they get hit on the head. Sports like hockey, soccer, football and, above all, boxing could be much more dangerous for people with this variation.

Likewise, vigorous exercise of any sort can kill people with a genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. You can get your genes tested for that as well.

Other researchers have discovered genetic variations that might increase the risk of a tendon injury.

Researchers also finding genes that control how we adapt to exercise. If two athletes undergo exactly the same training, one may get dramatically stronger while the other does not improve — or gets hurt trying to keep up.

Sports Injury Genes Abuse?

Some researchers are exploring the idea that different genes may adapt people for different sports. One person might be better off sprinting, another playing water polo.

In fact, a gene test of the future might even determine what position you play within a sport. At a genetics meeting I attended in San Diego last month, researchers from the University of Zagreb had analyzed the genes of professional soccer players. They assigned higher numbers for “explosive strength” and lower number for endurance. “Fullback and attack positions had higher indices, being more explosive whilst the midfielders showed lower indices, e.g. tendency toward endurance,” they wrote.

All this brings up some uncomfortable questions. One one hand, maybe genetic screening of this sort could save athletes from severe injury.

On the other hand, they could bar people from activities they really enjoy.  And the genetic information doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, some of the people with genetic coding associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy never develop the condition and have no particular problem with exercise.

And what if employers, health insurance companies or even people you wanted to date started asking for information from such tests?

At the San Diego meeting, Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Institute noted that this kind of problem is cropping up all over in his field. “We’re at an extremely awkward time where we have just enough data to be dangerous,”  he said.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to play sports as much as possible before someone tests my genes.

Photo: DNA double helix. By Andrea Laurel. Some rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Do Sports Injury Genes Determine Your Fitness?”

  1. I never really considered genetics when it came to sport injuries. Now that I think about it, it really makes sense when you factor in different body types into the equation. My lanky body doesn’t fair to well in Football, but it can do track and field pretty good if I do say so myself. Thanks for bringing this interesting topic up!

    1. Yes, it’s a complex issue. I think it will be a long time before we fully understand the interplay of genes and the environment — if we ever do.

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