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Spine and Smoking

It is estimated that there are 1.3 Billion chronic smokers in the world. At any one time, one third of smokers are trying to quit. Of these, 93% will smoke again within one year’s time.

Why is smoking bad for my spine?

  • Smokers have a 3-4 times higher chance of getting Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Smoking can accelerate existing disc degeneration
  • Smokers have a higher risk of sciatica
  • Smokers have a higher likelihood of developing chronic back pain
  • Smoking accelerates osteoporosis, especially in the spine; for each pack of cigarettes smoked over 10 years, the bone density can drop 3%
  • Smokers over the age of 50 will have a more accelerated risk of back pain
  • After a spine fracture, vertebral bones heal poorly in smokers
  • After a spine fusion, the rate of bone fusion is less than half that of non-smokers
  • After spine surgery, smokers have higher risks of infection
  • Smoking is directly associated with Low Back Pain most likely due to the reduced blood and oxygen delivery to the spine

How does smoking damage my spine?

  • Carbon Monoxide is inhaled when smoking. This chemical interferes with the transport of nutrients to the disc
  • Nicotine can directly interfere with the disc’s nutrition and bone growth
  • Nicotine can interfere with the absorption of calcium which is important for bone health
  • Coughing chronically from smoking can cause stress on the disc, potentially rupturing it
  • Smokers are often less active which can lead to a weakened spine
  • The nutrition is often worse in smokers which can worsen the health of the disc
  • Smoking causes breakdown of collagen which is a protein important for disc health

Does smoking after spine surgery cause problems?

  • Smoking after spine fusion surgeries can lower the chance of the bone fusion. It is thought that the failure rate for spine fusions is 3-5 times higher in smokers than non-smokers.
  • The surgical wound healing is impaired which can lead to infection and poor scarring
  • Smokers have worse outcomes after discectomies and spine fusions
  • Fewer smokers returned to work after spine surgery than non-smokers

Do Spine Specialists care if I smoke?

Some spine surgeons will not perform certain surgeries such as fusions on patients who smoke and require that smokers be nicotine free for a certain period of time.