There are many causes of lower back pain, but new studies show that quitting smoking can dramatically decrease the pain.

Back pain is a condition that plagues at least 80% of Americans at some point in their lives, with causes ranging from strenuous work to a bad mattress. With fingers being pointed toward numerous causes over the years, a new study suggests that smoking could be a leading cause of back pain.

Smokers, especially younger smokers, have been shown to report lower back pain more often than non-smokers, particularly among adolescents and women. Fortunately, lower back pain caused by smoking can be partially reversible.

Researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health reviewed over 80 studies from around the world from 1966 to 2009, involving more than 300,000 people. The people studied were smokers, previous smokers, non smokers, and lower back pain patients. The studies suggested that smoking can inhibit bone regeneration, accelerate spinal breakdown, impair blood flow to the spine and surrounding muscles, and lead to more pain.

While none of the studies were aimed at showing the cause and effect of smoking in relation to lower back pain, it did show a significant outcome of accelerated pain without other cause. It also showed that younger adults and adolescents who smoked were more likely to experience pain, as well as other ailments that could progress the back pain even more, such as hypertension or high cholesterol.

While many other factors that contribute to lower back pain can be easily explained, such as a high BMI (Body Mass Index) or heavy occupational lifting leading to spinal injury, the body usually will repair itself. This study suggests that smoking can lead to slower healing of bone and muscles and can impair proper blood flow, which can lead to injuries not recovering properly.

For instance, if someone suffered a small fracture in their shoulder, and didn’t give it the time to heal properly, calcium deposits would likely build up in the fracture, preventing it from fully healing. The break would essentially be unable to re-fuse, leading to years of chronic pain, the risk of further break, and the possibility of other bone disorders developing later in life, such as osteoporosis.

Injuries need a proper environment in which to heal, which might include time, relaxation, and taking care of the body.

To be clear, these studies do not necessarily say that smoking causes back pain, but that smoking can play a role in spinal degeneration and impaired healing. To help relieve the effects of lower back pain in association with smoking, quitting the habit can not only lower the pain but can help jumpstart the healing process, leading to better wellness in the spine and greater overall health.



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