We’ve all heard by now that “sitting is the new smoking”. There is no question that excessive sitting and a sedentary lifestyle certainly have their share of health risks, which we will discuss later in this series. However, it’s important not to let a catchy phrase diminish the serious and widely-known health risks associated with smoking. In fact, new information continues to emerge, particularly regarding the association between pain, musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and smoking.
Smoking and MSK Conditions
1. Clogged arteries
Atherosclerosis is a particular type of arteriosclerosis, which is caused by plaque build-up on arterial walls, and is one of the major risk factors associated with smoking. When the body is injured, blood flows to the area to aid in healing. Smoking can lead to clogged arteries, which then restricts blood flow, particularly to very small blood vessels such as those that supply the bones and discs of the spine. The decreased blood supply, in turn, decreases the ability for the injury to heal.
2. Decreased bone density
Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, but that’s not the only dangerous aspect of this chemical. Nicotine is also known to inhibit the specialized cells that build bone tissue, called osteoblasts. When this function is compromised, bones lose their mass and density and become porous, and more susceptible to fracture, a condition called osteoporosis. However, a number of the health risks associated with cigarette smoking are reversible. The sooner a person quits, the better.
3. Pain perception
According to a 2014 study, smokers are three times more likely to develop back pain. In addition, after mapping the brain circuitry associated with addiction and reward, researchers found that smoking affects the way a person’s brain perceives and responds to pain, which may be related to the increased likelihood of chronicity among smokers. Quitting smoking, however, whether before or during treatment, drastically improves recovery from back pain.
Smoking Rates are Improving
Smoking bans in public and indoor spaces are becoming the norm, and early surveys show that they are having a positive impact on smoking rates and overall health in Canada and around the world. For example, a 2013 study showed that a comprehensive smoking ban in PEI reduced the overall number of hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction and angina.
Overall rates of smoking in Canada declined from 24% in 1999 to 19.3% in 2013. The lowest provincial smoking rate belongs to British Columbia with 16.2%, and Nunavut has the highest rate at 59%. Most encouragingly, among young people aged 15 to 24, the percentage of smokers dropped dramatically between 1999 and 2012 from 35% to 16%.
It’s Never Too Late to Quit
If you are a smoker and suffer from back pain or another MSK condition, seriously consider kicking the habit. You may be surprised to find that within a few days, your pain lessens and your overall feeling of well-being improves. It’s not easy to quit, but it’s worth it.