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Smoking’s Negative Impact on Your Spine

Though most people understand the detrimental effects of smoking on the heart, blood vessels, and lungs, as well as the cancer risks involved, most are unaware of its effects on the spine.  In fact, smoking can worsen degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and may also inhibit healing after spine surgery, especially if a fusion is required.

The cause of degenerative disc disease is a breakdown of discs in our spine, the discs which separate our spine bones. As we age, our discs dry out and shrink. These age-related changes can lead to a myriad of diseases including arthritis, disc herniation, or spinal stenosis.  Disc degeneration is a normal part of ageing.

Degenerative spinal problems, like degenerative disc disease, may be worsened by smoking cigarettes because discs in the spine do not have a direct blood supply and rely on surrounding tissue to provide oxygen and nutrients.  Smoking’s impact on blood vessels surrounding discs inhibits their ability to function properly. When spinal discs begin breaking down due to loss of proper nutrients, the patient experiences back pain and an increased risk of spinal injury and vertebral fractures.

Osteoporosis, a bone disease that results in loss of bone density, affects one in two women, and one in four men typically over the age of fifty. Osteoporosis has detrimental effects on the spine and vertebrae and increases the risk of vertebral fractures. Smoking further exacerbates these issues, potentially increasing the rate at which the bones deteriorate.  Though there is no cure for this disease, physical therapy provides ways to reduce the pain and prevents further injury through spine-specialized therapy.  By incorporating exercises to improve flexibility and strength, the physical therapist can help decrease pressure on the disc related to simple motions such as bending, sitting, coughing, or lifting light or heavy objects.

Should surgery, including a spinal fusion, become necessary, smoking can significantly inhibit proper healing of the spine. Blood vessels cannot accurately deliver nutrients to the disc and vertebrae, perhaps resulting in further stress on the spine.

If you are experiencing back pain due to osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease, or any other kind of pain, schedule an appointment with us today at (303)327-5511. Our physical therapists will help you through exercises to improve spinal health, as well as provide practical support to quit smoking and promote a healthy back and spine.

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