Smoking increases the risk of SPINAL surgery by 50%: Nicotine damages spinal tissue, weakens bones, causes inflammation, back pain

A Swedish study concluded that cigarette smoking increases the risk of lower back pain that needs to be remedied by spinal surgery.

The scientists studied a common cause of back pain known as lumbar spinal stenosis, which happens when the spinal canal diminishes in shape, putting pressure on the spinal column and nerves. The study involved 331,941 construction workers who were part of a nationwide occupational registry in Sweden. They were observed for an average of more than 30 years. Around 1,623 of them eventually had to undergo surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis. People who used to smoke still had risks of getting chronic back pain; however, quitting smoking lessened the odds of needing a back surgery by over 70 percent.

Smoking appears to be a risk factor for developing lower spine space narrowing that can lead to surgical treatment. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk,” said senior study author Dr. Arkan Sayed-Noor, a researcher at Umea University.

The authors of the study said they overlooked one thing: They did not try to factor in the exercise habits of the participants involved. Most of the construction workers whose smoking habits were analyzed were men; the results could have been different for women. In any case, the results of the study still holds true when it comes to establishing the link between cigarettes and disc damage and back pain, according to University of Toronto researcher Dr. Jean Wong, who was not a part of the study.

There are multiple short- and long-term health reasons for smokers to quit, and by quitting smoking, smokers can reduce their risk of back pain due to disc generation and spinal stenosis – which can be a debilitating problem in smokers. Although it may take multiple attempts, quitting smoking is the best thing a smoker can do to minimize the risk of spinal stenosis and other health problems,” Dr. Wong added. (Related: Quit smoking before 40, gain nearly a decade of life.)

Additional studies regarding the connection between cigarette smoking and lower back pain

Previous studies, which have been done as much as more than 10 years ago, gave the same results as the recent study, and established the connection between smoking and lower back pain.

One of these is the one that was conducted on 1,337 physicians who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland between 1948 and 1964. They were observed for more than 50 years. The findings of the said study, which were reported at the 2001 annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Surgeons in San Francisco, solidified the statement that smoking is a risk factor for low back pain, due to the fact that atherosclerosis (which a smoker can obtain through years of smoking) causes lower back pain and degenerative disorders of the intervertebral discs.

Because we had the subjects’ medical records and answers from self-reported questionnaires over such a long period of time, a 53-year period of time for the oldest patients, we were able to determine if the risk factors, such as smoking or high cholesterol, preceded the development of the disease years later,” co-author of the study and chief resident in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Nicholas Ahn, said.

To prove a causative association from a long-term prospective study is very powerful because one can show that the cause occurred before the effect as opposed to the other way around,” he added.

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