Smoking and Back Pain

The negative health effects caused by smoking are widely documented. Good public education and advertising campaigns have made us all aware of the major health issues associated with smoking. Emphysema, lung cancer and heart attacks are some of the most well known. What you may not know though is that smoking is also bad for your spine.

Why is smoking bad for your spine?

The reason for this is that nicotine kills the cells in our bodies that promote bone growth. In our skeleton, there are two cell types, one that grows new bone (osteoblasts) and one that removes old bone (osteoclasts). In a healthy skeleton, these cells work in harmony with each other, ensuring that bone is continually replaced, refreshed and able to adapt to day-to-day stresses. When you smoke, the nicotine in the tobacco kills off the cells that grow new bone. So, all that is left are the ones that remove the old bone.

Smoking tobacco:

  • Significantly delays the recovery time for acute pain
  • Increases the risk of hip fractures in females by 1.3%
  • More than doubles your risk of getting osteoporosis
  • Triples the incidence of chronic low back pain
  • Triples your risk of getting degenerative disc disease
  • Triples your risk of getting cervical spine arthritis
  • Increases your chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 7.5 to 16 times if there is a family history.
  • Decreases production of collagen by up to 22% (the proteins that make up your muscles, tendons and ligaments)
  • Reduces the blood supply to your discs (making them brittle and vulnerable to stress)

Smoking is so damaging to your bones that orthopaedic surgeons will not perform spinal surgery unless the patient has quit smoking and come off nicotine patches.

So strong is the effect of nicotine on the skeleton, that often just the act of quitting smoking alone can get rid of a patient’s pain.

Reducing the effects of smoking on the spine

The good news is that the effects of smoking and nicotine on the bones can be reversed. You just have to quit smoking. Remember those cells I mentioned that grow new bone? Well if you stop killing them with nicotine, they come back. After a few years of your body being nicotine-free, those bone-growing cells go back to their normal levels, living once again in harmony with the bone-removing cells. After a few more years, you will have a healthy skeleton again.

Further Questions?

If you have further questions, we recommend speaking to a healthcare professional. Use Whitecoat to easily find an appropriate healthcare provider near you.

Posted by Dr Jake Bright in Provider Blogs
27 Sep 2016

Posted by
Dr Jake Bright

27 Sep 2016
Provider Blogs

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