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Back pain – could nicotine be the culprit?

Nicotine in any form could be one of the reasons for why you are at a higher risk of  back pain and poor healing after spinal surgery. Smoking is the most obvious delivery system for nicotine but with the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies (e.g., patch, nicotine gum), you need to be careful about taking in nicotine in any form.

  • Nicotine Doesn’t Go with the Flow

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), nicotine has a negative effect on blood flow and circulation. Your blood serves an important purpose when it is delivering oxygen and nourishment to your cells. The discs in your back already have small blood vessels and by adding nicotine, these blood vessels contract even smaller. As a result, your discs are not getting what they need, degeneration can worsen, and back pain can result. Recovery time from any back surgery will typically take longer when there is nicotine use and there are higher rates of complications. Poor blood flow can also inhibit the ability of new bone to form.

  • No Bones About It

Nicotine is bad news for bones for a variety of reasons. As mentioned above, poor blood flow is an issue with nicotine use. Nicotine can also slow down the body’s ability to create bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. Osteoporosis (i.e., fragile bones) is a risk factor with smoking or nicotine use because nicotine keeps the calcium that you digest from being absorbed as efficiently. With less calcium being absorbed, there is less bone mineralization and osteoporosis can be the end result. As a result, fractures can take much longer to repair.

  • Nixing Nicotine

Good news! Some of these negative consequences can be reversible if you are able to quit smoking or using nicotine. Maintaining a state of mindfulness can be a successful tool to be able to quit and minimize the likelihood of a nicotine relapse. To achieve this mindfulness, WebMD recommends:

List the reasons you want to quit, including your back pain. Think about writing those reasons down and putting them in all the places you may typically reach for your nicotine fix.

Think about the situations in which you use nicotine. Are you alone? With friends? Smoking at work? Is it with your morning coffee? If you can be mindful of the where, when, and who connected to your nicotine use, you can develop strategies and alternatives for being around those people, in those places, and at those times.

Be aware of how powerful the urge to smoke can be but recognize that the urge can fade fairly quickly as well. Be prepared ahead of time with options to get through those intense minutes that accompany the urge to use nicotine. This may mean calling a friend, finding a book that demands your attention and focus, taking deep breaths, or drinking a glass of water.

Change the habits that are connected to smoking or nicotine use. If a habit was to sit at your kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, maybe take a to-go cup of coffee and a walk around the block. That way, you are changing your routine and creating positive new habits.

  • High Tech Helpers

The benefit of living in a high-tech world is that there is so much technology available to help you stop using nicotine without having to go the white-knuckle, cold turkey route. Quitter’s Circle recommends the following tech tools to help with stopping nicotine use.

There are many smart phone apps, including one by Quitter’s Circle, that can help provide information, track days of being smoke free, let you know how much money you are saving, and track progress. Also remember that the urge to smoke will pass, usually within 5 minutes so finding a game to play on your smart phone may work as a distraction technique.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. Social media can great support mechanism if you can find a Facebook or Twitter group that will help keep you on track.

Finally, there is wearable technology, smart watches and fitness trackers, that can help show you how much your vital signs are improving as you move away from nicotine use while keeping you on target for diet and fitness goals.

  • Be Better to Your Back

It is obvious to most people that smoking is bad for your lungs but now it is clear that nicotine is bad for your back. It’s time to be better to your back, put down the cigarette or turn off the e-cigarette, and take the positive steps to a life with less back pain.

Talk to the professionals at DISC Spine Institute to see how your back pain can be addressed and how your nicotine use could be making it worse.  DISC Spine Institute are experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Subscribe to Back Stories to stay up to date on all the latest posts.

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