Back Pain can be Almost Unbearable... unless you smoke…then it gets worse…

30 October 2018

Seriously  Smoking causes my back pain now?  And then you are probably going to tell me it causes angina, acne, halitosis and body odor…  It might be a shorter list if you were to tell me the things it does not cause!

Of course most of us have grasped onto the idea that putting such a varied collection of chemicals (that have been proven harmful to us) inside our bodies is a bad idea.

Less than 20% of the population still smokes but proportionately more of those folks (or recent quitters) have more back problems than non-smokers.  It seems important to find out why.

Summary of Other Causes

Just to differentiate the usual causes of back pain from this newest one, let’s have a quick look at the ones many people are at least slightly familiar with:

  • Lifting heavy objects improperly
  • Being overweight
  • Inadequate Vitamin D and Calcium in your diet
  • Inadequate Exercise
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Poor Posture

Injury from poor lifting happens when you lean over to pick something up and don’t use your knees and legs.  It also happens when you have successfully picked something up, but then twist without properly placing your feet to transfer the strain.

Being overweight is a different problem altogether.  When you are overweight, particularly around the midsection, it pulls your body off balance.  It changes the natural curve of your spine and causes muscles and tendons to support loads in ways counter to how the human body evolved.

Nutrition is important.  All bones, including your spine, need Vitamin D and Calcium for strength, and it helps to prevent osteoporosis.

Exercise is often seen as the domain of people with plenty of leisure time, not an activity for working folks.  Let’s hear it for the parkour fans, cyclists, skateboarders, and those folks that walk to the store every day to buy fresh vegetables for making dinner.  We need to participate more in our own lives.

Computer time, TV time, office work, our daily commute, and more…  All these things conspire to keep us sitting, living a sedentary lifestyle, where actually getting out of our chair elicits grunts and other sounds of discomfort as we attempt to move.

And lastly amongst the common causes, there is poor posture.  Hunched forward, elbows on knees, operating our game console controllers, literally for hours without moving.  This stretches and elongates our back muscles, over compresses the disks in our spine, and when we finally stand, they’re too sore to support us comfortably.

All these things are bad for us, and we don’t doubt it, but we also don’t do much to alleviate it either.  Now let’s toss in the final factor…people that still smoke.  What does science say about that?

Your Back…up in Smoke

When you go outside in cold weather, your fingers start to get uncomfortable first, followed by your hands, ears, feet, face, arms, and legs.  It doesn’t seem to affect anything beyond that, on the trunk of your body, and this is because the body is conserving heat for vital organs.

Tiny muscles lining all your blood vessels contract progressively in the furthest parts of the limbs, so the blood flow is minimized to restrict heat loss.  That is the way it should be.

Smokers, on the other hand, always have cold hands—often experiencing an overall coldness beyond what non-smokers encounter.  This is because nicotine causes those same muscles inside your blood vessels to contract, but not systematically (in an orderly fashion) to conserve heat.  It happens systemically (system-wide) in all the blood vessels simultaneously.

The effect is pronounced in your spine, an area that is ordinarily unaffected.  This means that there is limited blood flow to all the soft little disks in between the bones that make your spine function.  It, and the surrounding muscles, receives less oxygen, fewer nutrients, less building materials for making new bone, and less maintenance, responsible for cleaning up metabolic leftovers when cells do work.

Worse yet, nicotine also restricts the ability of our bodies to take up calcium from our food.  It compounds the problem further by inhibiting the processes by which the body builds new bone cells, and carries out repairs.

The Takeaway

We’re deceiving ourselves if we think we can introduce all these things into our body yet be completely immune to any consequences.  If we were going to categorize people who shouldn’t smoke, those with a family history of degenerative back disorders are the people that should most avoid it.

You can take lots of calcium supplements in an effort to offset it, and injections of vitamin D every couple of weeks, but you are in the position of someone in a leaky boat with only a small bucket.  You just can’t get enough water out to keep the boat afloat.  You’d be much better off patching the hole rather than “bailing your way across the lake” in hopes of reaching the other shore before you sank.

Smoking is hurting your back; it’s being a pain-in-the-neck; and just experiencing a Smoker’s Cough can make back pain worse.  Now you have an excellent reason to take advantage of one of the free plans in your area to help you quit.