Genetics & Sports Injuries: How Our DNA Makes Us Prone To Injuries

by: Adeel Malik on


Injuries and sports go hand in hand. Athletes are on a constant lookout for ways to improve their athletic performance forgetting that high-intensity training sessions increase the risk of injuries, especially if accompanied by high impact loads. We could see elite players such as Rafael Nadal or Juan Martin Del Potro struggling with injuries which forced them to stay off the court for a longer period of time.

Why some athletes seem to be unlucky to suffer injuries every now and then? Is there something in their bodies that make their muscles, ligaments, or bones tear or strain more frequently? A growing number of researches suggest that DNA may be the answer to this question.

Connective Tissue Injuries: Environmental vs Genetic Factors

Realizing that a majority of sports injuries are actually soft-tissue injuries (ligaments and tendons) has led to a rapid growth in interest and consequently research activity as well.

Not all connective tissues are the same, and more importantly, the same connective tissue may have a different structure in different individuals. The factors which have the greatest influence on these differences in connective tissue are of environmental and genetic origin. Environmental factors typically refer to nutrition and diet, exposure to mechanical loads during training, exposure to drugs, etc. whereas genetic factors are related to variations in genes encoding for a specific collagen or any other protein. So, the ability of any connective tissue to adapt to the mechanical load will depend on the interaction between environmental and genetic factors.

Until recently, the research in the area of sport-related injuries was focused on understanding environmental factors. However, the focus has shifted to identifying the relation of intrinsic genetic factors to injuries in sports. There is now a growing body of evidence showing that there are genetic risk factors for Achilles tendon ruptures, Achilles tendinopathy, stress fractures, as well as anterior cruciate ligament injuries.

Some Athletes Have Genes That Make Them Prone To Injuries?

So far, it seems that a number of researches have led scientist to the point of understanding how DNA makes athletes prone to injuries. Scientists have identified specific genes that are in some way linked to making athletes prone to injuries. Although, a number of researchers hold the view that the likelihood of suffering from specific sports injuries is more likely to be caused by multiple genes, identifying specific genes is a huge step forward to understanding how our DNA makes us vulnerable to certain injuries.

Genes Responsible For Collagen Production & Their Relations To Injurie

Since collagen is the main component of ligaments and tendons, some studies in the field of sport-injury genetics have focused on those genes and their variations that control the production of collagen and their variations. Moreover, collagen proteins are found in the structure of bones and tissues as well. However, in some people, variations in the structure of these proteins may be observed, which leaves body structures either weaker or unable to repair themselves after injuries. A group of researchers from South Africa was able to distinguish specific variations of the collagen gene named COL1A1. The researchers paid special attention to those recreational athletes who had suffered traumatic ACL injuries. The results of the research indicated that the variations of the mentioned collagen gene were under-represented in this group of participants. Compared to the group of subjects who hadn’t had any injury, these recreational athletes were four times more likely to have a blood relative who had suffered the same injury. These observations led the researchers to suggest that genetics is to some degree responsible for the strength of the ligaments.

Another research linked the same gene to other soft-tissue injuries such as shoulder dislocations and Achilles-tendon ruptures. The TT genotype, one of the three potential variants of the gene, has been related to making ligaments and tendons prone to injuries. Thus, researchers discovered that this variation of the gene is found in only 5% of the population – those lucky ones who are extremely unlikely to suffer a traumatic tendon or ligament injury.

The COL5A1 is another gene associated with collagen production, and this research from 2009 linked it to a higher risk of Achilles tendon and the ACL. Moreover, another research indicated that the gene may be related to a greater susceptibility to exercise-induced muscle cramping as well.

Genes Responsible For Bone Density & Muscle Strength

Investigating the relation between injuries and genetics, some researches also focused on bone-mineral density and identified genetic markers associated with this measure of bone strength. Moreover, a growing body of research has indicated that there is ground to claim that increased rates of stress fractures in younger women and osteoporosis in older women is related to genetics and tend to run in a family.

There is also a number of researches that associate muscle strength with genetic factors, more specifically with the ACTN3 gene. The observations obtained so far indicate that RR genotype may be linked to the capacity to produce more strength. Moreover, it has also been associated with lower muscle damage susceptibility. Of course, further research is necessary to confirm these observations and give a clearer picture on the link between this gene and muscle strength and injuries.

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Although genetic testing is a topic which raises a lot of questions, many believe that in this way athletes may get valuable information about their genetic makeup that may increase their competitive edge. However, the information obtained through research of this kind is not valuable only to elite athletes. A great number of amateur athletes also suffer from injuries they get during matches in recreational leagues or when they participate in outdoor sports activities. Even though knowing one’s genetic makeup won’t help the athlete avoid all the possible injuries, it can still be used to the athlete’s benefits by revealing those at higher risk and minimizing problems. For now, we are still waiting for some larger-scale research that will give a clearer picture of the matter. Further and more extensive research into the field will hopefully yield results and observations that hold the potential for injury prevention for athletes.

How do athletes strengthen connective tissue to prevent injury?


Boxing and Head Trauma – History of brain injuries in boxing and its impact today

by: Adeel Malik on

If you have seen a few boxing matches in your life, then you would know that boxers can really take a beating. The whole professional sport is about beating down your opponent. While this means that both players are susceptible to some form of physical injury, head trauma is most common. In fact, if you have come across the recently released Will Smith starring blockbuster “Concussion”, then you would know how many sports have a history of head injuries. 

Boxing is an incredibly popular sport, and most professional boxers have sustained some form of head trauma. This, in no way, has slowed or deterred the popularity of the sport, especially when the likes of Muhammad Ali were its ruling champions. After Ali’s recent passing in June, speculations emerged linking his neurological decline due to Parkinson’s, to his professional head trauma during boxing. There is currently, no concrete evidence that could directly link Parkinson’s or any other Neurodegenerative disorder to head trauma. However, more recent studies have shown a dramatic coincidence between traumatic head injuries, especially in sports, and subsequent neurological decline with age. Does this simply mean banning sports like boxing or martial art? While this is up for a later debate, currently there is a need to assess the level of trauma past and present boxers have, and can sustain. Moreover, there is a need to create a general public awareness of these incidents and their consequences. Other professional sports like rugby and football also have a history of head injuries, but it prevails more in boxing due to opponents aiming for each other’s heads or faces for knockouts.

The unfortunate death of Frankie Campbell

Perhaps one of the most traumatic boxing incidents is the match between Frankie Campbell and heavyweight boxer Max Baer in 1930. Campbell had the lead when Baer, in an aggressive charge, gave him a seriously fatal knockout by a blow to the jaw, followed by a continuous streak of brutal power shots. The fight ended with Campbell falling to the corner of ring unconscious, only to never recover. Campbell was declared dead on his arrival to a hospital. The doctors attributed his cause of death to cerebral hemorrhage due to severe blunt force trauma. They said his brain had subsequently detached from the skull’s connective tissue. The incident in a way opened the eyes of people towards the violent reality of the boxing world.

Benny “the kid” Paret

Benny Paret was a Cuban boxer who died due to injuries he sustained in the boxing ring at the age of 25. Paret was defending his welterweight title against Emile Griffith in a televised match on March 24, 1962. Griffith subjected some twenty-nine consecutive direct blows to Paret who collapsed right there in the ring. The unconscious boxer fell into a coma and died 10 days later due to cerebral hemorrhaging. 


“Who killed Davey Moore?”

If you are fan of Bob Dylan, then you must certainly be aware of his 1963 song titles “who killed Davey Moore”. The song was inspired by the tragic death of Featherweight world champion Davey Moore as he fought and lost to boxer Sugar Ramos on March 21, 1963. Moore was knocked down by Ramos in the ropes after successive blows to the head, and a blow to the neck. This subsequently injured his brain stem, although Moore got up from the ring and gave interviews. The seemingly fine boxer went back to his dressing room complaining of headaches and collapsed. After being taken to a hospitable, doctors diagnosed him with terminal brain damage. Moore remained in a coma and died 75 hours later. This incident in conjunction with the previous deaths in boxing due to head injuries spurredcontroversy about boxing as an increasingly dangerous sport.

What has changed today?

In the world of boxing today, the impact of those who died in the ring, still resonates. Meanwhile, science has continuously tried to enlighten the short term and long term effects of trauma sustained from boxing. With heavyweight champions like Floyd Mayweather coming under light for regaining the popularity of the sport, the injury factor has not been subsided. More and more studies today are linking neurological deficits in veteran boxers to their sustained head injuries.



However, boxing seems to have made a permanent mark and evolving continuously. Players today, have an updated way of going about the sport than their predecessors. Protective gear such as gloves, mouth guards and headgear are influenced more by research in order to provide maximum safeguard. 
Boxers are being taught to enhance their defensive skills, and to improve their punching techniques as well. There is a need for a lot more science to go into making the sport a lot safer for its players. Boxers are subjected to harsher penalties for subjecting their opponents to any personal fueled violence. The ring is to be fought at, in a completely professional manner. Increased number of consecutive strikes are also opposed. This increasing understanding for the impact of boxing on a person’s health can make this sport less of a bloodbath. But then again, a lot more effort is needed, with more emphasis on the safety of the boxers rather than the amount of money involved. 

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