Whether your patients are elite athletes or just weekend warriors, they want to put in their best performance.
Imagine if there was a way to not only predict which workouts will give them the most benefit, but which type of sports injury they will be most likely to suffer so that you can help them compensate. It seems like something out of a science fiction novel, doesn’t it?
A new area of genetic research claims to be able to custom-tailor workouts and find patients’ most common type of sports injuries based on their DNA, rather than on their body type or movement.
Potential benefits of genetic testing for athletes
Odds are good your patients who are serious about their athletic endeavors have pulled muscles and sprained ankles at some point. In some cases, they might have actually torn ligaments or tendons, causing them to be sidelined for even longer. If the same type of injury happens over and over, they may begin to wonder if they are just exceptionally clumsy or have bad luck. Being able to determine which type of injury to which they are most prone, based on their genetics, can help you devise a compensation plan.
On the flip side, your patients may have reached a plateau with their workouts and feel frustrated that they are not able to get to their next goal. If you can figure out what type of workout is best for your patients by looking at their DNA, you can help them maximize their workout potential.
What does the research say?
A recent study in the journal Biology of Sport looked at the results from a group of 28 athletes from different sports, and another group of 39 soccer players, to determine their power and endurance levels based on whether or not they were properly matched in terms of their training to their DNA testing.1 After athletes in both groups underwent DNA testing, they were randomized to either a low- or high-intensity training program.
Half of the athletes in each group were assigned to a training style that matched their DNA analysis, and the other was assigned to a style that did not match. At the end of eight weeks, the athletes were measured in terms of aerobic fitness and explosive power (i.e. jumping ability). Those who were in the DNA-matched group performed better on the measurements than those who were not DNA-matched.1
A 2015 review article in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine summarizes the current research on how genetics may play a role in sports injuries.2 As just one example, approximately 4 percent of athletes carry two copies of a particular genetic allele, or mutation, that strengthens the tendons and ligaments, thereby decreasing their risk of having either an anterior cruciate ligament tear or Achilles tendinopathy. This could mean that your patients with this particular allele can safely participate in sports such as soccer and basketball, which have a high risk of ACL tears, with less danger of injuring themselves.
Despite these promising early results, some researchers remain cautious as to the benefits that genetic testing has to offer the sports world. A consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine cautions that there is not yet enough solid evidence to draw any real conclusions as to the benefits of genetic testing in terms of athletic performance, particularly in regard to children and young adults.3
The main concerns center around quality control and the ability of the genetic tests to live up to their claims. The authors of the consensus statement summarized their position: “In the current state of knowledge, no child or young athlete should be exposed to [direct-to-consumer] DTC genetic testing to define or alter training or for talent identification aimed at selecting gifted children or adolescents. Large scale collaborative projects may help to develop a stronger scientific foundation on these issues in the future.”3
Sports competition can be very demanding, and your athletic patients are often looking for way to give them an edge. DNA testing to enhance their workouts and determine if they are prone to certain types of injuries more than others is a very promising field of research, but may need more time to grow. Only time will tell.
- Jones N, Kiely J, Suraci B, et al. 2016. A genetic-based algorithm for personalized resistance training. Biology of Sport, 33(2), 117–126.
- Goodlin GT, Roos TR, Roos AK, Kim SK. 2015. The dawning age of genetic testing for sports injuries. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: Official Journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 25(1), 1–5.
- Webborn N, Williams A, McNamee M, et al. 2015. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing for predicting sports performance and talent identification: Consensus statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49, 1486–1491.