Not only lungs, smoking affects spine health too

Smoking is extremely harmful to your health and raises your risk of developing cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke. Did you realise, though, that this behaviour can potentially harm the spine? According to a study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Disease, smoking alone increases the likelihood of debilitating back pain by roughly 30% and makes persons slightly more susceptible to other localised body ailments.

We therefore made the decision to decipher and comprehend the connection between the two.

Smoking generally causes tissue damage by slowing circulation and limiting the supply of nutrients, claims Dr. Manish Kothari, Consultant, Endoscopic Spine Surgeon, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre. In addition to reducing blood flow to the heart, nicotine can also impair the body’s ability to adapt and reduce the size of blood vessels, which can harm the discs, structural ligaments, and muscles in the back.

He went on to say that smoking has an effect on the intervertebral discs of the spine because it causes the disc to break down. These discs provide flexibility and act as a cushion for the spine. Where the bone meets the spinal disc, there is a deficiency in nutrient exchange, which is why this occurs. Smoking only makes the disc’s already weak ability to regenerate worse by further cutting off the nutrients, he said.

Similar to this, Dr. Gururaj Sangondimath, Senior Consultant and Unit Head, Department of Spine Surgery, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi, stated that smoking has a direct connection to disc slip or disc blackening. Smokers experience rapid disc degeneration and are more vulnerable to slip disc problems than non-smokers. Furthermore, when we perform spine surgery, also known as “fusion surgery,” we essentially fuse one bone with another. However, if the patient smokes, this fusion will not occur, and the procedure will be unsuccessful. For the surgery to be effective, the patient must stop smoking six months in advance.

Along with the discs, the bones also deteriorate, becoming fragile and porous like brittle chalk. “This is osteoporosis, which is defined as hollow and weakened bones. Smokers rapidly deplete the minerals and collagen in their bones, which makes them more prone to early deterioration and straightforward fractures, according to Dr. Kothari.

Methods to improve spinal health

The most important thing, according to Dr. Sangondimath, is to engage in regular exercise, which can include core strengthening and stretching activities like walking, running, and swimming. “We also need to be mindful of how we sit, stand, move, and sleep. We should never stand or sit motionless for more than an hour at a time. Instead, we should always sit upright while using the backrest as support. We must also use caution while lifting any weight off the ground, he added.

Dr. Kothari concluded by saying, “As stated in the New England Journal of Medicine, smokers who experience back discomfort have strong justification to give up smoking right away. Although giving up the habit is a start to a slow recovery, it is unlikely to immediately reduce back pain. Better if done sooner.


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