80 % of people will have back pain sometime in their life. Often, I am asked how can I avoid having back pain. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid the natural wear and tear to our bodies. Just by living, you will wear out your joints, bones and ligaments. In addition, some of us will cause injury to our joints, or muscles by a traumatic event. But there are factors you can control. The most common one is smoking. Do not Smoke!
Your cardiologist does not want you to smoke, as it leads to heart disease, and puts you at risk for heart attacks. Your oncologist does not want you to smoke as it leads to increased rates of cancer. These are significant issues, but usually, people will not stop smoking until they have a event that causes them to stop. Cancer or a heart attack can often change ones habits pretty quickly.
As a spine surgeon, I want you to know that smoking also increases back and neck pain.
How you say? The nicotine in cigarettes cause constriction of blood vessels. That is why you can have a heart attack. But, blood vessels supply oxygen to your muscles, ligaments and disks. Blood vessels suppy nutrients to these same areas. If you do not have oxygen or nutrients, these areas suffer damage. SMOKING causes damage to your neck and back muscles, ligaments and disk. This concept has now even made it to the general media. The following link is from the news agency Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/01/08/us-smoke-back-idUSTRE60755G20100108
Often times, smokers will cough. The internal forces associated with a cough is significant and causes potential damage to these structures. Anyone with a history of a pinched nerve, or severe back pain will tell you that they brace their back or neck before a cough or a sneeze, as it causes severe pain. Although not studied well, it is my opinion that the smoker’s cough also contributes to degeneration of the above structures. In addition, secondary to constriction of the blood vessels, smokers cannot repair the damages to the structures like non-smokers.
Lastly, there is clear evidence that smoking affects surgical outcomes. For all surgeries, secondary to decreased blood flow, you heal slower, and potentially have increased rates of wound problems and infections. Specifically in spinal fusions, a good blood supply is necessary to promote bone healing and fusion. Without this blood supply, often times the fusion does not happen, resulting is a potential suboptimal outcome. The following links to a medical article about smoking and fusion. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3824072
The bottom line is DO NOT SMOKE! You get heart disease, cancer and a bad spine!