Smoking and Back Pain

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Even if it is not advisable for people to smoke, especially when they are in their younger years and under 45 years old, a lot still tend to disregard their own health because of different reasons that would make up with their nicotine consumption. People usually think that smoking will only mainly affect the lungs of smokers and the people exposed to secondhand smoke, but that is not completely true; it can also lead to back pain.

Smoking causes a general deterioration of the body’s condition which slows down the natural healing of the body. When other organs heal slowly, the tissues in the body will tend to malfunction which is why feelings of pain usually intensify. Chronic pain usually lasts up to more than three months and smoking would worsen the condition. It might look like there is a huge gap between smoking and back pain and the correlation is not as visible, but smoking has a direct effect when it comes to the spinal structure of the body and research studies over the last 8 years have reported that smoking is associated with back and joint pain.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 14% of American smokers are more susceptible to smoking-related conditions such as lung and heart diseases, and low back pain. It was said that there is a strong association between smoking to the back pain smokers are experiencing. Additionally, smoking can impact the vascular system and the brain circuitry. Research findings have shown that:

  • The more frequent a person smoke, the chance of getting back pain is higher
  • Smokers who experience low back pain also tend to experience pain in their legs which extends to the lower knee.

The reason as to why these things happen is because according to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, there is a reported connection between a smoker’s number of packs per day plus the longevity of their smoking habit and the evolvement of a herniated disc and spondylolisthesis, a more serious case of inflammation in the spine. Smoking gradually adds up to the formed and growing damage, not just in people’s spinal structures, but also across the whole body.

Upon looking at these effects, it is important to take note that nicotine is the primary suspect in this. The connection between smoking and pain is due to the capacity of nicotine to do the following:

  • It slows the natural healing of the body
  • It increases blood pressure and the feeling of being fatigued
  • It decreases the rate of exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood
  • And lastly, it narrows blood vessels which result in reduced blood circulation and nutrients to the muscles, organs, and bones.

Smoking and Spine Health

Smoking may alter the levels of nutrients like vitamins and cholesterol in the blood and other organs such as the heart and the lungs which could help explain the link between smoking, back pain, and weakened spine. Researchers in their studies have come up with a conclusion about the effects of smoking on back pain and spine health:

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  1. Low Vitamin D– smoking changes the speed of vitamin D production, the number of vitamin D receptors, and Vitamin D that are circulating in the blood which may lead to Vitamin D deficiency. This increases the potential of decreased bone density which could make a person more susceptible to bone fracture and injuries. There was a well-established association between Vitamin D deficiency to low back pain, and poor spine health however, this may only be experienced by people with severe Vitamin D deficiency.  
  2. Low Vitamin C– While there is no evidence for now proving that low Vitamin C causes back pain and poor spine health, it is still a factor of interest in many low back pain studies. It is said that smokers have lower Vitamin C levels in the blood since they metabolize Vitamin C faster. 

While there is evidence that links smoking to lower back pain, there is still more to explore in explaining the many possible ways that smoking leads to and causes the frequent chronic back pain of smokers.

Smoking and Blood Flow

The development of degenerative lumbar spine problems may be caused and directly affected by smoking. This also includes:

  1. High blood pressure (Hypertension)– some individuals have hypertension because of smoking. This is because smoking impairs the ability of endothelium, a thin cell membrane in the blood vessels, which is responsible for regulating blood pressure.
  2. High blood cholesterol– hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol level in the blood increases the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
  3. Narrowing of the arteries (Atherosclerosis)– this is triggered by hypertension and high cholesterol levels. Atherosclerosis decreases blood flow to the tissues and organs in the body and may result in ischemia. This, according to science, increases the risk of and potential of intervertebral disc degeneration and low back pain. 

Quitting Smoking

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Does quitting smoking reduce and ease back pain? Here is a summary of what quitting smoking can do to your body:

  • It helps reduce the severity of the pain you are experiencing
  • It decreases the chance of developing back pain
  • It improves the quality of one’s life
  • It can make your body healthier
  • It decreases the chance of having lung diseases

Aside from these, quitting from smoking would also potentially increase the quality of one’s mental health and lifestyle. This eventually leads to an individual’s betterment because of their changed mindset about life and most especially, their way of living. It might not be easy for those people who have already gone through years in their lives being quite dependent on smoking as a way to release their distress, unwind, or just developed it as a habit. However, it would most definitely be worth it if they aspire to live a better life not just for the people around them, but also for themselves.

Back Pain After Quitting Smoking

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, qQuitting smoking can be very hard to do and overcome especially when it is already a part of one’s life—it is already a person’s habit. This can be very worth the sacrifice because this can lessen the risk and can minimize back pain. However, even when stopping oneself from smoking, general body pain may get worse. Former daily cigarette smokers experience body pain, including back pain which usually starts after smoking.

Others who may have experienced pain before smoking will continue after smoking. But after quitting, smokers might have more struggles and issues with pain. This is because of nicotine withdrawal which decreases the levels of serotonin in the brain. With decreased levels of serotonin from nicotine, the sensitivity to the pain of a smoker increases. I remember someone I know who experienced the same. His disease has gone worse the moment he stopped smoking which is why people who frequently smoke, shouldn’t quit immediately to reduce or alleviate withdrawal symptoms. 

There are also a couple of instances where quitting smoking is often discontinued or the efforts are most likely wasted as immediate cutting off of such a habit could only bring relapse. This mostly happens to those smokers who are somehow highly dependent on smoking already that an immediate stop sign to this need would only make their bodies seem as if it is being deprived, hence, the relapse. This situation also provides the importance of taking things easy and not speeding on the process.

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Oftentimes, former smokers have already damaged their spine and joints from smoking. Many people have developed conditions like osteoporosis through frequent smoking. It is very important to keep in mind that smoking causes many serious health problems and painful medical conditions in the back and joints.

These could have been prevented if the person is not exposed to nicotine and secondhand smoke. Smoking and pain management are linked together. A person having body pain could never get rid of it if they continue to expose themselves to smoking. It may be hard, but for people who have successfully overcome the struggle of quitting smoking, pain may already have been reduced. 

Additionally, it is important to quit smoking when under medications because this could interfere with the effectiveness and the process.

The chemicals that are included in cigarette smoking (whether e-cigarettes or any type) might also bring more harm than good.

Collectively, this is not to rule over people’s decisions but smoking is not advisable especially for those who still have a longer life ahead of them. In order to enjoy life at its fullest, good mental and physical health, a suitable and proper lifestyle, and the refusal to make already existing matters (such as back pain) worse than they already are. Let us all live our lives to the fullest and aim for a better version of ourselves!

Read more from BuzzinPH: Back Pain in Kids and Teens


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