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, neurologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.
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.
About the Author
Vicki Martinka Petersen, health enews contributor, is a digital copywriter on the content team at Advocate Aurora Health. 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.