The Effects of Smoking on 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. When we consider the spine, which consists of vertebrae, cartilaginous intervertebral discs, connective tissue, small muscles and nerves, we begin to get a broader sense of how smoking can damage your spine’s ability to function normally.

Which parts of the spine are affected by smoking?

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

  • Intervertebral discs – the discs that separate adjacent vertebrae have a very low blood supply. Smoking inhibits circulation even further, making it impossible 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 intervertebral discs weaken, the chances of a herniated disc or bulging disc increases. These conditions can cause disc material to impinge spinal nerves.

Tips for quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is obviously easier said than done. 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.