Aside from raising the risk of lung cancer and many other forms of cancer, smoking has now been found to be linked with neck problems, too, stressing the importance of quitting – or never starting in the first place. Researchers have found that smoking damages the cervical discs in the neck.
The affected discs are located between the vertebrae, which absorb shock from the spine. Over time, the discs become dehydrated and begin to shrink, contributing to neck pain. Although this process is natural to aging, smoking speeds it up, thus worsening the natural wear and tear.
The study explored CT scans of 182 people and found that smokers had more advanced cervical degenerative disc disease, compared to non-smokers.
Lead investigator Dr. Mitchel Leavitt said, “This is another example of the detrimental effects of smoking. Tobacco abuse is associated with a variety of diseases and death, and there are lifestyle factors associated with chronic neck pain. Pain and spine clinics are filled with patients who suffer chronic neck and back pain, and this study provides the physician with more ammunition to use when educating them about their need to quit smoking.”
While previous research found a link between smoking and lower spinal disc degeneration in the lower spine, the current findings are the first to find the association in the upper spine, neck region.
Dr. Leavitt added, “There are more and more high-quality studies coming out that show an association between healthy lifestyle and improved quality and quantity of life as well as better disease management. Spine health is no different, and this study adds to existing studies that have looked at blood vessel health as it relates to chronic back pain.”
Additional research is required to determine how other lifestyle factors affect the spine.