If you still smoke, you probably hear this all the time—but we’re going to tell you anyway. You need to quit! In addition to the well-documented medical problems caused by smoking like heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema, smoking is linked to problems throughout the body. This includes external damage to hair, skin, teeth, and gums, as well as issues in parts of the body that might surprise you like the stomach, liver, and bones.
Recent research from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Emory University provides evidence to suggest that smoking can damage the discs of the cervical spine. This can cause chronic neck pain and exacerbate preexisting problems like degenerative discs.
Your discs are provide padding between your vertebrae, helping shield your moving bones from impact. Degenerative disc disease causes these discs to become worn and torn (literally!), and this can use pain not only from leakage that irritates nerves but also from stenosis and from vertebrae coming into contact with one another. Severely damaged discs require medical intervention like laser spine surgery.
In the Emory study, doctors looking at 182 patients were able to establish a correlation between smoking and the development of degenerative disc disease. Though other factors likely contributed—for example, weight, activity level, and diet—smoking is part of this constellation of poor health habits that can lead to the degeneration of discs in the cervical spine.
Degenerative disc disease progresses over time, and without intervention it gets worse. It can cause chronic pain as well as loss of range of motion, which can limit your ability to stay active. This becomes a vicious cycle, as a sedentary lifestyle can likewise increase back pain. That means that the everyday choices you make—like whether to hit the gym, or what to have for lunch—can in the aggregate have a major effect on your health.
Though there are fewer young people smoking today, older people who are starting to deal with degenerative disc disease may find that quitting smoking needs to be their first step in finding effective treatment. Smoking has such a deleterious effect on your circulatory system and your body’s natural ability to heal that at the Spine Institute Northwest, we will not perform a minimally invasive procedure on any patient who is a smoker until he or she has fully quit. If you’re suffering from chronic back or neck pain, it’s all the more reason to kick the butts for good!
Want to learn more about the treatment options available at the Spine Institute Northwest? Call us at 206-496-0630 to talk to one of our patient advocates.