David J. BenEliyahu DC FICC

Administrative Director, Back & Neck Pain Center at Mather Hospital

Research studies have definitively shown that there is a positive association between active smoking and back pain, as much as 30% in adult smokers. Women who smoke were 50% more likely to have chronic back pain than non-smoking women. Other studies have shown a link between lumbar pain and sciatica. Smokers are 50% more likely to need spinal surgery than non-smokers. In a Swedish study, smokers (up to 14 cigarettes a day), were 46% more likely to have spinal surgery.

Nicotine, the active chemical in cigarettes is toxic as it contains carbon monoxide that has been shown to damage spinal disc cells, and the blood vessel’s interior lining. Nicotine shrinks blood vessels which restricts blood and nutrient flow.

Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death, pain and disability in the United States. This includes not just cigarette smoking but vaping as well.


Effects of Smoking on Spine Health:

  1. A risk factor for osteoporosis. With decreased bone density, smokers are at high risk for spine compression fractures, with an increased risk of 32% .
  2. Reduced blood flow which can cause spinal disc degeneration
  3. Reduced nutrient levels such as Vitamins D and C, both important nutrients for your spine
  4. Reduced immunity
  5. Increased spine and body inflammation. Nicotine inflames the blood vessels.
  6. Weakened healing
  7. Weakens muscles of the spine
  8. People who smoke have been shown to be less physically active and as such get less exercise

Quitting nicotine like smoking and vaping, can have a positive and immediate impact on spine health. Blood flow improves, inflammation decreases, and your body’s ability to heal itself is enhanced, thus helping to stop chronic back pain.