Despite regular exercise, a healthy diet, and ideal lifestyle, if you are a smoker you may experience chronic back pain. Research has indicated that smokers are three times as much as non-smokers to experience chronic back pain and are also more likely to develop physical disabilities at an earlier age.

Smokers are also more likely to develop physical disabilities at an earlier age.

“Cigarette smoking reduces calcium absorption, prevents new bone growth and slows down the spine’s healing process. Coughing due to heavy smoking can also lead to increased intra-abdominal pressures which may further add to the back pain.” says senior spine specialist at QI Spine Clinic, Dr Neha Narula.

Dr Narula goes on to mention three other ways in which smoking can have a negative impact on one’s back:

“Reduced blood flow to the discs and disc degeneration

The discs in your spine are gel-like cushions comprising 70 per cent water. As the body mass increases, the discs dry up because of the load it has to bear. Smoking accelerates this process, creating friction between the vertebrae. Physiologically, smoking affects blood flow circulation and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the discs and joints. Due to smoking, a plaque is formed in the arteries, which further narrows, thus decreasing the flow of blood. As a result of this, the spinal discs become inelastic, hard and brittle. This results in disc-degeneration, further leading to chronic back pain.

Weakening of muscles and immunity

Nicotine in tobacco triggers the release of a chemical (dopamine), which tricks the body into reducing stress and thus feeling good. Hence, smoking becomes addictive to the body. However, the same tobacco impairs the oxygen-rich blood flow to the bones and tissues thus leading to early signs of degeneration which may further lead to impaired bone and wound healing. It also prevents new bone growth and increases the risk of osteoporosis. Reduced cardiovascular capacity and fatigue weaken the muscles which make it difficult for the muscles to support the spine.

Altered perception of pain

Interestingly, smoking alters the way you perceive pain. Nicotine affects the functioning of the brain and heightens a person’s reaction to pain. The connection between the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex is altered, making a person less resilient to back pain. A study conducted in 2010 that examined the pathophysiology between smoking and pain indicated that long-term smoking causes receptor desensitisation, creating a perception in smokers that a relatively small amount of pain is severe. This can further alter the effectiveness of opioids prescribed for pain management. Smoking also impairs the normal functioning of the immune system and increases the risk of infection in the body.”

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