How smoking and tobacco use contribute to herniated discs

A herniated disc can occur due to a number of factors, including aging, genetics and traumatic injuries. One cause that sometimes gets overlooked is use of tobacco products, which has been proven to speed up degenerative changes in the spine by affecting the structural integrity of the spinal discs. It is important to understand how a herniated disc can occur in order to comprehend the added negative effect tobacco smoke has on these parts of the spine.

Smoking and disc degeneration

Discs act as the spine’s shock absorbers, but as we age, they begin to dehydrate and become less pliable. A herniated disc can occur if the outer wall weakens enough to crack or tear open and the inner material pushes out into the spinal canal.

Smoking cigarettes or using other forms of tobacco releases nicotine and additional toxins into the body, which can keep discs from getting the amount of oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy. This can result in the degenerative process occurring faster than normal, increasing the chances that a herniated disc can develop. A herniated disc doesn’t always cause symptoms but if disc material compresses or irritates a nerve in the spinal column, the following can be experienced:

  • Pain
  • Spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

Lifestyle changes to treat a herniated disc

Your doctor may initially recommend that you begin a course of conservative treatments to help relieve herniated disc pain. These types of treatments typically include pain medication, physical therapy, electric nerve stimulation or hot/cold therapy, and are often effective at relieving ruptured disc symptoms.

Additionally, your doctor should make recommendations about lifestyle changes to promote the long-term health of your spine. For smokers, a cessation plan may not cause immediate pain relief and can be difficult at first, but can contribute to healthier discs, potentially preventing re-injury or new occurrences of a herniated disc.

Laser Spine Institute

In some cases following a course of conservative treatments and making needed lifestyle changes are unable to provide adequate relief and your doctor may suggest surgery. Before you consent to a surgical procedure, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the advantages of our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our board-certified+ surgeons have helped treat more than 75,000 patients, including those with pain caused by herniated or bulging discs, spinal arthritis and other neck and back conditions. To learn more, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

To help you determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures, our caring and dedicated team will be happy to provide a no-cost MRI review.*

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