How smoking damages spinal anatomy

We’ve all heard about how detrimental smoking can be to your health, but we often hear mainly about its effects on heart and lung function. However, the toxins in cigarettes also wreak havoc on your bones and soft tissues, including our spines. The spinal column consists of vertebrae, spinal discs, connective tissue, small muscles and nerves that can all be impacted by the negative effects of smoking.

The caring and dedicated team at Laser Spine Institute is committed to helping patients get their lives back from neck and back pain. We hope the following information can help you work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan, including lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, to bring you lasting relief. If you have any questions about your condition and the available treatments options, contact us to learn more.

Which parts of the spine are affected by smoking?

All parts of the spine are affected by the habit of smoking. Below are a few dangers that you may not be aware of:

  • Spinal discs. The discs that separate adjacent vertebrae have a very low blood supply. Smoking inhibits circulation even further, making it extremely difficult for these discs to absorb the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
  • Vertebrae. Smoking reduces bone density, which puts the vertebrae at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, facet disease, spinal arthritis and other degenerative spine conditions.
  • Connective tissues. Nicotine causes a reduction in collagen levels, which makes soft tissues and cartilage less elastic and resilient. Tendons and ligaments become vulnerable to injury.
  • Muscles. Aside from the general degenerative effects of smoking on the muscles, tobacco smoke also harms your lungs, making physical activity difficult. The result can be lowered muscle mass due to inactivity.
  • Nerves. When cartilage, vertebrae and discs weaken, the chances of a herniated disc or bulging disc increases. These conditions can cause disc material to compress spinal nerves.

Tips for quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is a challenge for every person who attempts it. However, there are a few tips that may help the transition go a bit more smoothly. Drink plenty of water or opt for non-caffeinated beverages because caffeine can increase your nicotine craving. Try to exercise on a regular basis and get about eight hours of sleep each night; many people reach for the pack of cigarettes when they feel tired or un-energized. Finally, since so much of smoking has to do with habit, try changing your lifestyle or behavior. Eat your lunch in a different spot, walk your dog on a different route or read a book instead of watching television.

When to consider surgery to treat a spine condition

If you have been diagnosed with a spine condition as the source of your chronic neck or back pain, lifestyle changes like quitting smoking combined with conservative treatments like physical therapy, medication and therapeutic massage are often very effective in achieving long-term relief.

However, if you and your doctor have decided that nonsurgical methods have been exhausted, you may start to consider surgical options. For patients in this situation, Laser Spine Institute provides minimally invasive spine surgery that offers our patients an outpatient experience with a shorter recovery time than traditional open spine surgery.^

To learn more, reach out to our dedicated team today for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.