Smoking can be pain in back

April 1, 2008 4:03:46 PM PDT
We've all heard that smoking raises your risk of heart disease, most types of cancer, and it can make you look old before your time. But, what people may not know is that it also increases the risk for back pain.

Kelly McGrath, of Swedesboro, N.J., says her first bout with back pain came, "It was right after I had my daughter."

McGrath, who is 29, thought she'd pulled a muscle taking care of her new baby.

But after an MRI, Kelly learned the damage in a disk in her lower back was likely due to a habit she couldn't shake - smoking.

Dr. Kam Momi, of Coastal Spine, says studies have shown that disks in a smoker's back are less healthy than those of non-smokers. One study shows that smoke can nearly triple the back pain risk, and the longer a person smokes, the higher the chances. Women face a higher risk than men.

He explains, "Disks are a big piece of cartilage. They don't have a blood supply to them, so when they need oxygen, it has to drift in from the surrounding tissue."

Nicotine in tobacco smoke constricts blood vessels--- decreasing oxygen to the disk.

Dr. Momi continues, "With less oxygen to the disk, there's less ability to repair itself."

Smoking may also change the nervous system, increasing the pain people feel.

10 years of research shows smokers have more serious back episodes, and lose more work time - yet, as Dr. Momi says, "Very few patients know about this, very few patients are told about this, because most non-spine specialists know about this."

Kelly keeps her back pain under control with yoga and pilates, and plans a new effort to stop smoking.

She smiles as she says, "Maybe I'll just exercise a little bit more to keep myself distracted."