If people with neck pain need another reason to quit smoking, here’s a big one. A study has connected smoking to degenerative disease in the cervical spine, which is in the neck. Smoking speeds up the degeneration and causes more damage.
How Smoking Affects the Cervical Spine
The cervical spine contains bones called vertebrae. Cervical discs with a soft, cushion-like center sit between these bones to absorb shock to the spine. As humans get older, the discs become dehydrated and shrink causing them to degenerate. And this tends to happen regardless of any lifestyle choices.
As it stands, the spine has less blood flow than other areas of the body. It’s been long known that nicotine can change the size of the blood vessels. In doing so, nicotine in the bloodstream hurts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the oxygen-rich blood. In other words, smoking negatively affects blood flow harming the bone’s ability to repair itself.
If a patient needs a spinal fusion in the cervical region of the spine, smoking will greatly damage the healing process. It will take much longer in months to heal after the surgery. If the fusion cannot heal, it may require another surgery.
When a fusion fails, it’s called nonunion or pseudoarthrosis. Even though the spinal instrumentation is very strong, it could potentially break when a nonunion occurs. And the evidence is mounting to show that fusions in smokers are often less successful than those performed on non-smokers. Additionally, smokers are also more susceptible to post-operative infections.
How Smoking Causes Neck Pain
The cervical spine can’t repair itself without oxygen-rich blood. With smoking reducing blood flow and speeding up disc degeneration, which leads to neck pain. Research presented at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting reports finding a connection between smoking and degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine.
The research team reviewed the CT scans of 182 patients with one-third being smokers. Smokers had more cervical degenerative disc disease.
“This is another example of the detrimental effects of smoking. Tobacco abuse is associated with a variety of diseases and death, and there are lifestyle factors associated with chronic neck pain,” explains Dr. Leavitt of the study’s findings. “Pain and spine clinics are filled with patients who suffer chronic neck and back pain, and this study provides the physician with more ammunition to use when educating them about their need to quit smoking.”
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