Up in Smoke: How Smoking Impacts Back Pain and Recovery

While the dangers of tobacco to lung health are well-known, its harmful effects on spine health are often overlooked. This blog post explores the link between smoking and back pain, how lighting up can worsen existing spine issues and even delay the healing process of surgery.

 Smoking and Back Pain: A Dangerous Duo

Research confirms a disturbing truth: smoking can significantly contribute to, and worsen, back pain. Studies have shown that smoking accelerates spondylosis, a condition characterized by the degeneration of spinal discs and facet joints. Additionally, nicotine and other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke restrict blood flow to your spine, impairing the delivery of vital nutrients and oxygen to the affected area. This compromised circulation can lead to inflammation, tissue damage, and heightened sensitivity to pain, making everyday movements even worse for smokers battling back issues.

How Smoking Hinders Healing

“Beyond making your existing back pain even worse, smoking can be an obstacle to your recovery from spinal surgery,” says Jay Morgan, MD, FAANS, neurosurgeon at Sierra Neurosurgery Group. The process of tissue repair and fusion, crucial for healing fractured vertebrae or addressing spinal conditions such as pseudarthrosis (a disease that occurs when a broken bone fails to heal after a fracture), can be significantly reduced in smokers. Nicotine disrupts the body’s ability to form new blood vessels, vital for delivering nutrients to injured tissues and helping the healing process. Because of this, smokers may experience delayed wound healing, an increased risk of complications after surgery, and a greater likelihood of failed spinal fusion procedures. This highlights the importance of quitting smoking 4-6 weeks before undergoing spinal surgery, and remaining smoke free 4 weeks after surgery, to better the chances of a successful outcome and long-term relief.

Going Up in Smoke: The Threat to Bone Density

Besides its direct impact on spinal health, smoking can indirectly contribute to back pain by decreasing bone density. Osteoporosis, a condition causing  weak and brittle bones, is more common among smokers due to the harmful effects of tobacco on bone metabolism. Research suggests that smoking accelerates bone loss, heightening the risk of fractures in the spine and other bones. These fractures can trigger excruciating back pain, reduced mobility, and an increased risk of further injuries. By undermining bone strength, smoking not only aggravates existing back pain, but also sets the stage for future spinal complications.

Conclusion: The evidence is clear: smoking poses a significant threat to spine health, worsening back pain and slowing down the healing process for those struggling with spinal injuries or undergoing surgery. From accelerating spinal degeneration to weakening bone density, tobacco takes a negative toll on your spine. However, by embracing a smoke-free lifestyle, you can take proactive steps towards relieving your back pain, promoting healing, and ensuring the future health of your spine.