Smoking can be a pain in the neck or back, literally

Smoking can be a pain in the neck or back, literally

That next pack of smokes might just break your back – or be a pain in the neck.

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S., affecting eight out of 10 people at some point in their lives. It’s also one of the most common reasons for missing work, and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office.

Neck pain is also common among adults. Over the course of three months, about 15 percent of adults experience neck pain lasting at least one day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Besides being a common source of pain, both back and neck pain can both be brought on by smoking. Tobacco restricts blood flow and oxygen to the spine, which can cause those discs to wear out faster and lead to back pain.

Smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain, according to a study that analyzed parts of the brain responsible for addiction and reward. The study observed 160 adults who noted new instances of back pain. During the study, participants were given MRI brain scans and asked to rate the intensity of their back pain at five different times throughout the course of a year. They also completed questionnaires asking about smoking status and other health issues.

The study looked at the connection between two areas of the brain responsible for motivation, learning and addiction. Researchers found that those who smoked had an increased risk of chronic back pain – pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks – compared to nonsmokers.

“The study makes a convincing argument for linking smoking to increased connectivity of two parts of the brain that, in turn, could increase the risk of your back pain becoming chronic,” says Dr. Jigar Mankad, a neurologist at Aurora Health Care.

Additionally, tobacco also can contribute to neck pain by constricting your blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow. It also increases how quickly the cervical discs in your neck dry out. These discs help your neck move freely.

“If you smoke and experience acute back or neck pain, be sure to let your provider know. They can take this into account when developing a treatment plan,” says Dr. Mankad.

If you need help quitting smoking, speak with your health care provider. They may recommend a smoking cessation program or offer other resources.

Are you having back or neck problems? Take a free online quiz here to learn more. 

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  1. Baby

    Pass this on to Robbetti

  2. Just another good reason to stop smoking. There are plenty already. Interesting study.

  3. I would have never thought there could be a correlation between the two. Good to know.

  4. Dr. Ashwani Garg

    This article did not mention the connection between atherosclerosis and low back pain. In effect, low back pain may be a kind of degeneration that is not necessarily from wear and tear, but also from reduced vertebral and disc blood flow, causing nociceptive damage to the delicate nerve fibers and degenerative disc disease that is more than expected for the age and activity level. Please reference this excellent commentary on the subject of atherosclerosis / low back pain with accompanying references: – every patient with chronic low back pain deserves a full assessment of their cardiovascular risk because it first may start with low back pain, ending up with heart attack, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease, and even abdominal aortic aneurysm! Talk to patients about diet, exercise, quitting smoking. Put them on appropriate medications to deal with atherosclerotic risk factors if needed, and especially encourage them to adopt a low fat, plant based, whole food diet, incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, beans, and minimizing dietary fat including meat, cheese, eggs, and dairy foods. Don’t just throw a bunch of painkillers, injections and therapy at them and expect them to get better. This is exactly why if you keep everything the same and do interventions such as IDET, RFA, discectomy, etc. they will continue to do badly afterwards.

  5. Questions! Would vaping cause the same or similar blood flow restrictions? Does second hand smoke or vape cause the same or similar?

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About the Author

Vicki Martinka Petersen
Vicki Martinka Petersen

Vicki Martinka Petersen, health enews contributor, is a digital copywriter on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. A former newspaper reporter, she’s worked in health care communications for the last decade. In her spare time, Vicki enjoys tackling her to be read pile, trying new recipes, meditating, and planning fun activities to do in the Chicago area with her husband and son.