At this point, we all know that smoking is bad for your health—and in fact, if you are a smoker, you are required to quit before you can undergo a minimally invasive spine procedure at the Spine Institute Northwest. Though smoking most directly impacts the lungs, throat, and mouth, no part of your body can escape from its deleterious effects. That includes your back, as well as the systems you need to recover successfully from a spine procedure.
Smoking has a major impact on your circulation, which is one reason it’s linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Reduced blood flow means that your heart has to work harder in order to properly keep your body working. Proper circulation is also critical to your body’s healing processes; impaired circulation means that it will take more time for damaged tissue to be repaired. Your body relies on speedy delivery of cells and nutrients in order to heal. The more that this is compromised, the harder it becomes to recovery not only from illness or injury but from medical procedures as well.
Another reason that smoking can exacerbate back problems is the toll it takes on cardiovascular fitness. In addition to restricting blood flow, impaired breathing can make it difficult to complete normal physical activities, let alone exercise. Staying active is critical to maintaining good spinal health, so difficulty with normal levels of physical exertion (like walking up stairs) can have a huge impact on your back health. If it’s harder to be active, you’re less likely to stay active.
Smoking damages tissue throughout your body. Some of the signs are visible on heavy smokers—teeth, nails, and skin can yellow, and hair and nails become more brittle. It causes similar damage to internal tissue, too. Women who smoke are more susceptible to osteoporosis than those who do not. The inability to maintain a healthy bone mass makes women (and men) who smoke more likely to experience broken bone and fractures, including spinal compression fractures.
Smoking also can increase the risk of experiencing side effects from some medications. Smoking already puts you at a higher risk for stroke, heart attack, and other diseases, so your doctor may be hesitant to prescribe medications that could otherwise be helpful for you in managing your back pain.
If you have been considering quitting smoking, there really is no time like the present! The sooner you quit, the sooner your body can start healing itself—even within the first 24 hours of quitting, your body has already started on the difficult process of renewal. With each milestone you pass after quitting—the first day, the first week, the first month—your body is getting closer to being healthy again.