The Link Between Smoking and Herniated Discs

Smoking is a known cause of many long-term, serious health complications, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and heart disease. But did you know smoking can also increase your risk for chronic back pain due to herniated discs and degenerative disc disease?

At LA Pain Doctor, experienced interventional pain management physicians, Firas Hijazi, MD, and Satvik Munshi, MD, understand how painful a herniated disc can be. Not only do they offer innovative pain relief options, Dr. Munshi and Dr. Hijazi can also help you improve your spine health through lifestyle modifications and smoking cessation resources.

What a herniated disc means for you

In between the vertebrae of your spine are gel-like discs. These discs absorb the shocks of your movements and prevent the bones of your spine from rubbing together.

Owing to your age, smoking history, or due to spine injury, these discs can break down and force the soft center to push through the tough outer layer. This condition is known as a disc herniation and the disc’s bulging center can press on surrounding nerves in your spine.

This pressure on the spinal nerves can lead to persistent back pain and neck pain, numbness and tingling in your arms and legs, and loss of your spine’s range of motion and flexibility.

For some, a herniated disc can cause debilitating pain and interfere with your ability to stay active. If not treated properly in the early stages, a herniated disc may require surgery to remove damaged disc material.

How smoking is linked to herniated discs

Cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance found in tobacco plants. Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and sedative.

When you smoke a cigarette, the nicotine stimulates your adrenal glands to releases a surge of adrenaline. The adrenaline increases your blood pressure, raises your heart rate, and speeds up your breathing activity.

Nicotine can also rob vital nutrients from the cells of your spinal discs that are needed to keep the disc health. Smoking also exposes your body to carbon monoxide, which affects your discs ability to absorb important nutrients from your blood.

Without proper nutrients to sustain it, a disc can dry out and become less flexible. This increases the risk factors for disc herniation during physical activity or because of an injury.

Smoking increases risk for degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease often develops as you get older and age-related changes in your spine cause your discs to break down prematurely.

If you smoke, you may be prone to excessive coughing that puts excess pressure on your discs and strains your overall spine. This pressure can weaken your spinal structures and increase your risk for both a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease.

Treatment options for herniated disc pain

The LA Pain Doctor specialists develop a custom treatment plan to address chronic pain from a herniated disc. They offer nonsurgical solutions, like ice and heat therapy, massage, and electrical muscle stimulation to relieve pain and increase mobility in your spine.

Other minimally invasive treatments for herniated disc pain include:

You may also benefit from physical therapy to rebuild the strength of your muscles that support your spine and increase blood circulation that provides nourishment to your spinal joints.

Of course, the best way to avoid damage to your discs caused by smoking is to work through a smoking cessation program that will help you quit for good. The LA Pain Doctor team can recommend resources for quitting smoking and lowering your risk for long-term health complications.

If you have chronic back or neck pain due to a herniated disc, you can learn more about available treatment options by calling the LA Pain Doctor office nearest you or by requesting an appointment online today. 

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