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It is no secret that regular tobacco use can have a number of negative health consequences. In addition to increasing individuals' risk of heart disease, lung disease, cancer and asthma, researchers have noted that smoking can lead to back pain. Continued use of tobacco may also increase the severity and scope of these spinal issues, particularly in the lower back.

Cigarettes and back pain
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, quitting smoking can be the key to patients finding relief of frequent back pain symptoms. The report was conducted by investigators from the University of Rochester Department of Orthopedics and titled "Smoking Cessation Related to Improved Patient-Reported Pain Scores Following Spinal Care."

The research indicated that during the course of eight-month treatment for severe spinal disorder, patients who stopped using tobacco products  had lower chronic pain levels than those who did not, including former smokers. Subjects who smoked had significantly higher ratings on the visual analog scale (VAS) pain ratings, which features worst, current and average weekly pain.

"We know that nicotine increases pain," said study author Glenn Rechtine. "In this study, if you quit smoking during treatment, you got better. If you continued to smoke, there was statistically no improvement, regardless of the treatment you had. Smoking is bad for you. Basically, the likelihood to improve your care - surgical or non-surgical - was dramatically decreased if you are a smoker."

Pain Specialist, Dr. Michael Ho also supports the studies findings. " In all my years of treating back pain, I have always advised my patients to quit smoking.  I have found that patients that lived a healthier lifestyle and did not smoke, found recovery times and treatment effectiveness vastly improved.

Tobacco use in the U.S.
While tobacco use has been decreasing throughout the general population in the U.S., it remains a serious public health issue. The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 19 percent of adults ages 18 and older regularly smoked cigarettes in 2011. Additionally, about 16 percent of high school students use cigarettes, while another 7.3 percent used smokeless tobacco products.

Based on the University of Rochester study, individuals who smoke and are living with serious back pain should consider quitting cigarettes to alleviate their symptoms. Along with the use of therapies that reduce muscle tension such as spinal traction or T.E.N.S therapy, quitting smoking can have a drastic improvement on overall pain and the success of surgical recovery. That's not to mention the general health benefits of reducing risk for cancer, lung disease and other potentially-fatal health conditions.


To learn more about treatment of back pain, visit Dr-HO'S Back Pain page.

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