Latest Study Shows A Connection Between Back Pain And Smoking

By: Dzhingarov

Back pain is a common ailment affecting scores of people globally. Studies suggest that nearly 80% of people experience back pain at some point of life. This has led to many researchers conducting in-depth studies to determine the causes and what factors cause or aggravate back pain. Some of the common factors for the condition include strenuous workload, less leisure activities, high blood mass index and even smoking. The connection between smoking and back pain has been recently established and researchers are now conducting research to learn more about it.

Everyone is aware of the fact that the more we exert pressure on the spine, the more chances of getting severe back pain. Therefore we are always advised not to carry heavy objects since once the spine is injured, pain is likely to follow. But in case of repeated actions, such as exercising, the body adapts to the routine and is able to heal better. The body becomes stronger the second time and is able to heal better. Efficient blood supply along with sufficient time is the key to healing.

Smoking causes atherosclerosis which forms a plaque and other material build-up inside the blood vessels. This causes decreased blood supply, especially to those areas where blood is supplied via tiny vessels. The bones as well as the spinal discs of the spinal cord are supplied blood by such tiny blood vessels and are therefore affected atherosclerosis as it decreases the ability of the spine to heal.

Although the relation between smoking and the back has been established through research long back, a new study published in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery states that those smokers who are suffering from back pain and associated spinal pain disorders reported much greater pain and discomfort than non- smokers who suffered from the same back problems.

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Research on smoking and back pain

Researchers reviewed the smoking history of 5300 patients suffering from axial or radical pain due to spinal disorder and were treated surgically or non-surgically for the pain. They were monitored for a period of eight months.

While enrolling into the research, those who had never smoked or were prior smokers experienced significant decrease in back pain than smokers or those who had recently stopped smoking. Smokers reported considerable increased pain in Visual Analog Scale (VAS) pain ratings as compared to patients who never smoked.


Some of the other important findings of the research were:

  • Individuals who stopped smoking during the course of research reported decreased back pain than those who smoked.
  • The mean improvement in VAS pain ratings was significant in non-smokers.
  • Those who continued to smoke during the research reported no significant improvement in back pain.
  • Those patients who never smoked reported greater mean improvement when the pain was assessed using Oswestry Disability Index.


Osteoblasts heal the spine

For the spine to heal, the bone cell termed osteoblast plays an important role. It is a specialized cell that builds bone tissue. Nicotine in cigarette is a major chemical that has addictive properties causing people to for a habit of smoking. This nicotine also inhibits the activity of osteoblasts. Such decreased osteoblast activity caused due to nicotine causes the spinal bones to be unable to rebuild. As the time passes the bone is used up much faster than its ability to rebuild that leads to osteoporosis as well as other degenerative diseases. The pain becomes heightened and patients are unable to regain from the degenerative condition.

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In order to understand better the relation between smoking and back pain, further studies are required. It is believed that smoking also has effects on the intervertebral disc. Smokers are also prone to have a higher perception of pain, making the back pain worse. Further research in this field will help to correlate the factors better.