Does Your Back Hurt? Then Put Down that Butt! 

Does Your Back Hurt? Then Put Down that Butt!

Each year, an estimated 443,000 Americans die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Despite these known risks, approximately 46.6 million American adults smoke cigarettes.

It may not be as well-known, but smokers are more prone to back pain and spine problems than nonsmokers. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Nicotine restricts the flow of nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the discs that cushion their vertebrae and increases the rate of degenerative change. One study of smoker and non-smoker twins showed increased disc degeneration on MRI scans of the smoking group. A study of more than 6,000 patients positively linked low back pain with smoking. 

  • Smoking reduces calcium absorption and prevents new bone growth, which increases the risk of an osteoporotic fracture. In fact, one study shows that the risk of hip fracture is increased by 1.3% in female smokers. In a study of identical female twins, one member of each set was a smoker and one was not. A significant decrease in bone density was observed in the female smoker group.
If you are a smoker and are considering spinal surgery, your spine professional will likely counsel you to quit smoking. By quitting smoking before surgery, you will give your body the very best chance of healing well and it can actually affect the overall success of your surgery. Some facts:
  • Nicotine retards both wound and fracture healing by reducing the amount of oxygen in the healing wound and impairing collagen production. In fact, one study showed that 90% of a study group’s postoperative infections occurred in patients who smoked.

  • For those who require spinal fusion surgery, smoking has been shown to negatively impact the rate of successful fusion. One study demonstrated that the rate of nonunion (which means the vertebrae did not properly fuse) in smokers was 40 percent and the nonunion rate in non-smokers was only 8 percent. The study authors suspect that this was caused by a low oxygen level in the smokers’ blood.

To help you quit smoking, the American Cancer Society offers the following helpful advice: American Cancer Society "How to Quit"

Portions of this article were adapted from the September/October 2002 issue of SpineLine by the North American Spine Society.