As a chiropractic physician, I help people with neck and back pain, which is commonly the result of disease of the intervertebral discs. The discs are like shock absorbers between the bones in the spine. When they bulge, herniate or degenerate it can pinch or irritate the delicate nerves and cause terrible pain. The pain may localize to the spine or can radiate to an arm or shoot down a leg. There may also be numbness, tingling or weakness associated with a disc problem. Bulging or herniated discs may result from an injury, such as improper lifting, sports injury or an auto accident. Disc problems may also develop gradually over time from wear and tear. Family history may play a role but while you can’t change heredity you can have a significant positive impact through lifestyle. In my experience as a practicing doctor of chiropractic, almost everyone knows that smoking is bad for health and causes lung cancer, but what most of the thousands of patients I’ve treated didn’t know is that smoking also contributes to disease of the spinal discs.
20% of American adults smoke, with 80% of those smoking daily. There is convincing scientific evidence that tobacco smoking leads to disc degeneration. Tobacco smoking causes DNA damage leading to premature aging of the disc cells. Nicotine is also a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it causes blood vessels to constrict and limits blood flow. Some authors have hypothesized that reduced blood flow may leads to disc degeneration by limiting nutrients to the discs. When the discs wear, it can cause neck or back pain. At my office we are well prepared to help patients with bulging, herniated and degenerative discs but I also expect patient to help themselves through lifestyle. Quitting tobacco eliminates the most common cause of preventable death. Quitting (AKA smoking cessation) reduces risk of cancer, helps with circulation and lowering blood pressure and will likely make you live longer. It’s not easy but there are resources to help.
Free Resources to help quit:
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: http://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/
National Cancer Institute – Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/quit-smoking-pdq
American Cancer Society – Guide to Quitting Smoking: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/index
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – How to Quit: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/index.htm
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Tobacco Cessation: http://www.scdhec.gov/Health/TobaccoCessation/
Wang F, Cai F, Shi R, Wang XH, Wu XT. Aging and age related stresses: a senescence mechanism of intervertebral disc degeneration. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2016 Mar;24(3):398-408. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2015.09.019. Epub 2015 Oct 9.
Feng C, Liu H, Yang M, Zhang Y, Huang B, Zhou Y. Disc cell senescence in intervertebral disc degeneration: Causes and molecular pathways. Cell Cycle. 2016 May 18:1-11. [Epub ahead of print]
Ogawa T, Matsuzaki H, Uei H, Nakajima S, Tokuhashi Y, Esumi M. Alteration of gene expression in intervertebral disc degeneration of passive cigarette- smoking rats: separate quantitation in separated nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus. Pathobiology 2005; 72:146-51; PMID:15860932; http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000084118
Holm S, Nachemson A. Nutrition of the intervertebral disc: acute effects of cigarette smoking. An experimental animal study. Ups J Med Sci 1988; 93:91-9; PMID:3376356; http://dx.doi.org/10.1517/03009734000000042
Uematsu Y, Matuzaki H, Iwahashi M. Effects of nicotine on the intervertebral disc: an experimental study in rabbits. J Orthop Sci 2001; 6:177-82; PMID:11484105; http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s007760100067
Mattila VM, Saarni L, Parkkari J, Koivusilta L, Rimpela A. Early risk factors for lumbar discectomy: an 11-year follow-up of 57,408 adolescents. Eur Spine J 2008; 17:1317-23; PMID:18682991; http://dx. doi.org/10.1007/s00586-008-0738-2