Two Reasons Why Smoking And Chronic Pain Don’t Mix

smoking chronic painAs someone who has dealt with both acute and chronic back pain, I understand why patients want to control certain aspects of their life. Chronic pain can lead to anxiety and stress, and oftentimes patients just want 5-10 minutes where they can turn their brains away from their pain and feel a little relief.

Unfortunately, some people turn to cigarettes for this relief, and while it may offer you short-term relief, it’s making it hard for you to achieve long-term relief from your chronic pain.

Smoking has been linked to cancer, but today we’re going to focus on its impact on your chronic pain. I understand where the smoker’s head is at, but here are two reasons why smoking is seriously jeopardizing your likelihood of ever solving your chronic pain problem.

Why Smoking Worsens Your Chronic Pain

Smoking does a number of different things to your body, but one specific side effect of smoking is the impairment of oxygen-rich blood to your bones and soft tissues. Think of it like watering your garden during a week-long drought. If you water your garden once during the middle of the week, the plants will get some nutrition, but they will also suffer because they need more water. If you watered your garden 3-4 times throughout the week, your plants would never be without nutrition and thus could grow and prosper.

The same thing happens when you smoke. Some oxygenated blood reaches the lower back, but more would help your body heal faster. Giving up smoking will ensure that more healthy blood reaches areas of pain, decreasing your likelihood of a flare up.

Along a similar vein, the second reason why smoking makes it harder to recover from a chronic pain situation is because smoking has been linked to fatigue and slower healing rates. Exercise is a great way to combat chronic pain, but if you are tired or unable to exercise for longer periods due to your smoking habits, your chronic pain is more likely to linger. Similarly, blood vessel restriction means that your body can’t always get the nutrients to heal as quickly. Chronic pain can easily become cyclical if smoking slows your body’s ability to heal, or if it contributes to the onset of other painful conditions, like arthritis or degenerative disc disease.

It’s easier said than done, but if you can kick the habit for a healthier one, odds are you’ll be amazed at the health improvements you’ll see. We understand the desire to find some control in what seems like an uncontrollable situation, but turning to cigarettes only makes the problem worse.

Smoking Worsens Chronic Back Pain

Smoking Back Pain chronicNew findings out of the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting revealed another reason why you shouldn’t take up smoking if you want to have a healthy body. Researchers say smoking has been linked to worsening of degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine.

Degenerative disc disease is a natural process that occurs as we age, but that doesn’t mean everyone will suffer from painful symptoms. The condition occurs as the cervical discs between our vertebrae slowly break down over decades of use. If the condition worsens too much, the jelly-like central portion of the disc can rupture, causing pain and irritating local nerves. Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent a speedy degeneration of your discs.

Smoking, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Lead researcher Dr. Mitchel Leavitt said smoking can harm the small blood vessels in your back, which can make it difficult for oxygenated blood to flow in your back, exacerbating degenerative disc disease.

“Smoking is not healthy for a person’s intervertebral discs given the risk of developing microvascular disease – a disease of the small blood vessels – due to nicotine abuse,” Dr. Leavitt said. “Intervertebral discs receive their nourishment from the microvasculature that line the endplates on either side of each disc; when these blood vessels are damaged, the discs do not receive nourishment and this may speed up the degenerative process.”

Chronic Back Pain and Smoking

To understand how smoking contributed to chronic back pain, researchers evaluated CT scans of 182 patients who did not necessarily have back pain. 34 percent of individuals identified as smokers, and five cervical discs were given a grade on a 0-3 point scale with a 3 score denoting severe disc height loss. A five-disc total score between 0-15 was assigned to each individual.

After looking at the available data, researchers found that on average, smokers scored 1-point higher on the degeneration scale compared to non-smokers.

“This is another example of the detrimental effects of smoking. Tobacco abuse is associated with a variety of diseases and death, and there are lifestyle factors associated with chronic neck pain,” said Dr. Leavitt. “Pain and spine clinics are filled with patients who suffer chronic neck and back pain, and this study provides the physician with more ammunition to use when educating them about their need to quit smoking.”

So if you want to give your lower back the best chance to avoid chronic pain from degenerative discs, give up your smoking habit.