One of the most common causes of lower back pain is a condition known as lumbar spinal stenosis. This condition is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the nerves within the canal (as well as the spinal cord itself) and causes pain and other challenging symptoms. The condition is most frequently treated with surgery and is frequently attributed to degeneration of the vertebrae, ligaments, muscles, and discs. But a study conducted by researchers in Sweden is pointing to another potential cause for the condition: smoking cigarettes. After surveying occupational health registry data on over 300,000 construction workers, scientists found that nicotine constricts blood flow and promotes inflammation, significantly increasing smokers’ risk for the painful condition.
The large population included in the survey gives additional weight to the results of this survey, which included data over a thirty-year period. Most of those followed were in their 30s when they first entered the study, and there was a wide range in terms of cigarette pack history. Non-smokers made up 44 percent of the group, while 14 percent were considered heavy smokers, 26 percent were moderate smokers, and 16 percent were ex-smokers. Of the 331,941 workers whose data was examined, 1,623 people had surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis. Those who smoked at least 15 cigarettes per day were 46 percent more likely to have been among the surgery group, and for those who smoked up to 14 cigarettes a day the increased risk was 31 percent. Ex-smokers were shown to have reversed the impact of the habit: their increased risk dropped to 13 percent.
Commenting on the study’s conclusions, senior author Dr. Arkan Sayed-Noor of the Umea University wrote, “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.”
It has long been known that people who smoke have a more difficult recovery from surgery, and are at greater risk. It is also known that nicotine can harm the spinal tissue and make bones weaker. But this study offers a new view of the damage that smoking has on back health. The researchers corrected for other contributing issues, including age and being overweight, though it did not include information on whether the workers engaged in any form of exercise. The study only looked at men, and it is unknown whether the same findings would be true for women.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Jean Wong of the University of Toronto said, “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 degeneration and spinal stenosis – which can be a debilitating problem in smokers.”
Whether you are a smoker or not, if you are suffering from back pain, our lumbar spine surgery practice in New Jersey can help. Contact us today to set up an appointment.