If you are a tobacco smoker, you may wonder how such a habit can cause or increase pain in the back. After all, the most common causes of back pain that we hear about the most have to do with strenuous activity, over-exercising, or a predisposed condition. Having a cigarette doesn’t seem to have any connection with putting strain on the back, so what’s the science behind this… and is there any truth to it?
A British research study asked 13,000 people about their everyday lives, including their jobs, levels of activity, history of pain, and smoking habits. They concluded that smoking, just on its own, raised the risk of debilitating back pain by 30 percent. They also found that smoking seemed to also play a role in people’s vulnerability in neck, hand, hip, elbow, shoulder and knee pain.
Other studies have resulted in similar conclusions. While there can be many causes of back pain, like an occupation that requires heavy lifting, for example, smoking has been found to decrease the body’s ability to naturally heal when an injury happens. Our spines are rich in blood supply, and because of this, a small injury will heal pretty quickly. Smoking has been shown to contribute to atherosclerosis, which happens when plaque or other materials build up on the inside of blood vessels, causing a decrease in blood supply. If the blood supply is decreased, it makes it more difficult for the injured area to heal as quickly as it should naturally.
Another damaging effect smoking has on the spine is that nicotine inhibits the cell that builds bone tissue, called an osteoblast. The nicotine causes the osteoblast cells to have difficulty rebuilding after an injury, and over time, could cause the bone mass and strength to decrease to an irreparable degree.
Even if you don’t experience back pain and you smoke, there are several other reasons to quit the habit, including increased risk of lung cancer, stroke, and heart attack. Talk to your doctor about ways you can quit and where you can find support from others who will understand what you’re experiencing and help you to live a healthy lifestyle.
Palmer, K.T. et al. Smoking and musculoskeletal disorders: Findings from a British national survey. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. January 2003. 62: 33-36.