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Does Smoking Affect Your Back?

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health in countless ways, from cancer to heart disease.* Perhaps not surprisingly, several recent studies have substantiated the link between cigarette smoking and chronic back pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease.

Degeneration of one’s discs—the material cushioning the space between your vertebrae (backbones)—is, for now, an inevitable result of aging in both smokers and non-smokers. In the U.S., around 3 million cases are reported each year. Unfortunately for smokers, medical researchers confirmed a strong association between smoking and lower back problems decades ago. This February, a new study by the Association of Academic Physiatrists found that smoking speeds up this degeneration of the cervical spine (the bones in your neck) as well.


Your bones need calcium to stay strong, and vitamin d for bones to absorb the calcium. Smoking has been found to interfere with your body’s ability to process vitamin d. Cigarette smoking is also known to increase the loss of the hormone estrogen in women. Estrogen is essential for maintaining the bone mass; if you smoke you risk bones becoming thin and weak, resulting in osteoporosis.

How does smoking lead to serious, chronic back problems?

In addition to loss of calcium absorption and low estrogen, smoking impairs the ability to deliver other necessary nutrients to your spine. Dr. Rajesh Arakal, a spine surgeon from the Texas Back Institute, explains it this way:

“By breaking down the active ingredients in smoke, such as nicotine, we can determine how they might relate to spinal disease,” said. “Nicotine can cause narrowing and constriction of blood vessels in the body.

“Unfortunately, some of the very small blood vessels are very important for nutrition to the discs in the spine. When this happens, the discs which might have a slower rate of deterioration can begin to have an accelerated rate. This can be dose (of the nicotine) dependent,” he said. “People who have been smoking for a long period of time, or have a multiple-packs-a-day habit can suffer these ramifications.”

Other reasons that cigarettes may to lead to back pain are:

  • poor posture when smoking
  • severe coughing
  • lung cancer

Smokers themselves have spoken.

A University of Rochester Medical Center analyzed more than 5,000 spinal disorder patients. The results of the study, published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery states “Of the 5,333 people, those who had never smoked or had quit some time ago reported less pain than smokers or those who had just quit. By the end of the follow-up period, the people who had recently quit or who quit during treatment showed significant improvements in pain. People who continued to smoke during treatment had no improvement in pain on all scales.”

So there you have it, yet another important reason not to smoke. The good news is that quitting your smoking habit seems to provide noticeable relief for many former smokers.

For 10 reasons to quit, visit http://www.quitsmokingsupport.com/60reasons.htm.






*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery