The scientific consensus is overwhelming. Smoking is terrible for your health. Unfortunately, many people who smoke view the side effects as something that will affect them in the distant future rather than in the present. When discussing the negative health ramifications of smoking, we tend to focus on cancer and heart disease. People depicted in anti-smoking ads are almost always elderly and physically frail. The result is that younger smokers, who have the best chance of fighting addiction, are less likely to identify their habit with the horrible reality depicted on their screen. Some studies even point to smoking being a cause of back pain.
In truth, the materials in cigarettes are far more insidious than anti-smoking campaigns show. The effects are not limited to the elderly suffering from cancer, gum disease, and heart disease. Even young smokers have:
- Weakened immune systems
- Decreased ability to heal
- Reduced blood flow
Together, these effects lead to an entire host of symptoms that people may not even immediately realize are due to their smoking habit.
Smoking and Chronic Back Pain
Long before you may think you have to worry about smoking killing you, it is already having a direct, negative impact on your quality of life. You may already be familiar with the coughing and shortness of breath. But you may not realize that smoking also damages your spine and the surrounding musculature. This causal chain means that smoking can cause back pain. Four distinct factors link smoking to chronic back pain.
1. Reduced Blood Flow
Nicotine naturally restricts the size of blood vessels. Your blood vessels are responsible for delivering oxygenated blood and nutrients to your spine and the supporting muscles. The restriction caused by nicotine reduces the availability of necessary compounds to the spinal region. The result is gradual disc degeneration and muscular degeneration. As the discs and muscles fail, you will have less cushion between the spinal bones and less muscle support. Together, these lead to worsening back pain over time.
Smoking also increases your body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is used as part of the immunological response. But, an increase in response to the harmful elements found in cigarettes can exacerbate existing pain.
3. Reduced Calcium Absorption
Nicotine also makes it more difficult for your body to absorb calcium, leading to higher rates of osteoporosis in smokers. As a result, people who smoke are likely to experience the failure of the soft tissues, musculature, and bones that make up the spinal region at the same time.
4. Reduced Pain Tolerance
Every time you inhale cigarette smoke, the nicotine encourages your brain to release dopamine. This is the “feel good” chemical that causes smoking to be addictive. We rarely discuss an unfortunate side effect: the consistent exposure to dopamine will gradually increase pain sensitivity over time. Therefore, even mild back pain may feel severe to a smoker, especially as their addiction grows.
Beating Back Pain and Addiction
Unfortunately, smoking regularly will disqualify many patients from the spinal surgeries they need to treat the physical degeneration of spinal tissues. Not only does smoking cause back pain, but it can prevent you from treatment. The risk of performing surgery is simply too high for the patient. The reason is that smoking decreases your ability to heal and increases the chance of infection.
At Yashar Neurosurgery, Dr. Yashar will do everything possible to help diagnose and treat patients suffering from chronic back pain. Physical therapy and injections are often viable options for patients who are not eligible for surgery. However, if surgery is required, patients should be prepared to put a pause on smoking. We advise you to quit smoking for 4-6 weeks before surgery and continue to abstain for 4-6 weeks afterward. This period is designed to allow your body to resume normal immunological activity and significantly reduces the risk of complications.
For help with quitting, even if it is only for a few months, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to find out about local resources that you can use to help you quit. It won’t just add years to your life. It will make every day more comfortable.