Suffering From Back Problems? You May Need To Quit Smoking
By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Staff
The dangers of smoking are well documented: a nicotine habit can cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks….the list goes on and on. But can smoking cause back problems? More and more research is pointing to "yes".
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), smoking reduces the blood supply to the bones and has a detrimental effect on bone density, which increases your risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition, you can improve your chances for a successful outcome after back surgery if you are a nonsmoker or have stopped smoking.
"There have been several reviews on this topic and it's something we're very interested in," says
Dr. John Keel, Medical Director of the Spine Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
According to Dr. Keel, researchers believe that the toxic chemicals in the smoke (such as carbon monoxide) reduce blood flow, oxygenation and nutrient delivery to the structures of the spine. This lack of oxygen can also cause the discs that cushion the vertebrae to become more brittle, increasing a smoker's risk for disc ruptures. There is also a theory that "smoker's cough" can increase the pressure on the structures of the spine and cause pain or injury.
"Decreasing smoking is one of most important things you can do for back health," says Dr. Keel. "This is especially true if you are having spine surgery, because smoking also affects the ability of body tissues to heal."
Studies have shown that the ability of bone to heal after spine surgery is markedly decreased in smokers. Smoking also increases your risk for wound healing problems after surgery.
"One of the risks of spine surgery is non-union of bone, and this risk is increased if you're a smoker," says Dr. Keel.
According to the AAOS, a study on spinal fusions in the lower back showed the success rate was 80 to 85 percent for patients who never smoked or who quit smoking after their surgery, but the success rate dropped to under 73 percent for smokers. In addition, more than 70 percent of nonsmokers and previous smokers were able to return to work, but only about half of the smokers were able to resume working.
The good news is that this effect can be reversed if you quit smoking. According to Dr. Keel, you should quit two weeks prior to surgery and stay off for at least six months after surgery to get the maximum benefit, though giving up the habit entirely is the ideal goal.
"I think reducing or quitting smoking is one of the single most important things you can do for back pain and your general health," says Dr. Keel. "In many patients it's often a stop-and-go process, so any amount you can reduce smoking is beneficial to your health."
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
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