Smoking and Low Back Pain- Did You Know?

Smokers with back pain  – if you are going to continue to smoke, make sure it’s an informed decision.

We all know the effects smoking has on the lungs and heart, but did you know the effects cigarettes have on your musculoskeletal system?

Most of the patients I treat have no idea that smoking causes early ageing to their muscles, bone, connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) and especially intervertebral discs. Every

time they light up a cigarette they are contributing to the reasons why they are coming to see me with back pain.

You may have heard of the term ‘degenerative disc disease’ (DDD) and like any other sites of degeneration, DDD is a process that naturally occurs over time and is part of the normal ageing process.

Research strongly suggests that smoking can accelerate the ageing process of our discs by significantly reducing the transport and uptake of oxygen and nutrients, this reduction can reach up to 50%! As well as nicotine, smokers are exposed to carbon monoxide and these two poisons are the main culprits for the lack of nutrients reaching disc cells. As the discs become more and more malnourished, the outer part of the disc can become weakened and lead to bulges and herniation (prolapsed disc) and severe pain. In some cases nerve compression can ocurr leading to sciatica. The lack of nutrients may lead to a slower rate of healing and before you know it, you have a chronic low back pain situation!

The same chemicals also interfere with the absorption of calcium which is essential for healthy bones; this can lead to microscopic fractures which may compromise the vertebra and overall spinal structure. Smoking also dramatically increases the rate of breakdown of vitamin C – vitamin C is essential for the production, maintenance and healing of connective tissue which makes up our ligaments and tendons – and of course discs.

It doesn’t stop there – smokers have an increase in an enzyme called myostatin. Myostatin is a muscle growth inhibitor that also inhibits muscle maintenance causing atrophy (muscle loss) and therefore weaker muscles.

Smokers also have more of a tendency to cough – when we cough, we increase the pressure within the disc. This increase pressure can cause damage to an already compromised disc.

You get the picture? Ageing discs, compromised bone and loss of muscle – a recipe for back pain.

The good news is the effect of smoking decreases when the exposure to nicotine ceases and even degenerative discs may respond to osteopathy  and appropriate exercise

Our next blog will talk about how hypnotherapy can help you to stop smoking.

If you would like any more information, please give us a call.

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