Are you a smoker? Then you already know that quitting will save you money and help you live longer. But, did you know that it can also make your back feel better?
- Smoking restricts the flow of oxygen and other nutrients in the blood to the spinal discs, making you more vulnerable to lower back pain.
- Smoking increases the risk of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders that cause chronic pain in other parts of the body, while decreasing your body’s natural ability to heal itself from illness or injury.
The Link Between Smoking and Lower Back Pain
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered that a history of smoking, hypertension and coronary artery disease were significantly associated with the development of lower back pain. In addition to these risk factors, abnormally high blood cholesterol levels (hyperlipidemia) are also significantly associated with lumbar spondylosis (the degeneration of the spine). These findings show that atherosclerosis, the hardening of arteries often a result of smoking, causes lower back pain and degenerative disorders of the discs that cushion and protect vertebrae.
Smokers are More Prone to Chronic Pain
A study at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University suggests that smoking interferes with a brain circuit associated with pain, making smokers more prone to chronic back pain as well. In this study, MRI brain scans were used to assess activity between two brain regions: the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex. Both of these regions play a role in addictive behavior and motivated learning. The stronger the connection between these two regions, the less resilient you are to chronic pain. Smoking appeared to affect this connection and the study suggests that smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than nonsmokers.
How You can Help Your Body
Apart from quitting smoking, exercise can help relieve back pain. Because smokers have decreased cardiovascular capacity, they are less likely to engage in a regular exercise routine. This decreases muscle strength and stamina, providing less support for the spine and reducing flexibility and function.
Numerous studies return consistent results that smoking can cause back and chronic pain. The evidence holds true for men and women, regardless of age or occupation. Stop smoking and your back will thank you!