From lung cancer to cardiovascular issues, the health risks associated with smoking are well documented. One of the many reasons to quit smoking is the fact that it can cause spinal degeneration and severe back pain, which in turn can lead to a form of scoliosis known as de novo scoliosis.
In a nutshell, de novo scoliosis is a spinal curvature that develops in adulthood as a result of spinal degeneration. In some cases, a curvature of the spine occurs as a result of the facet joints and discs in the lumbar (lower) spine ageing, leading to the vertebrae slipping out of place and the spine losing its shape.
But if this degeneration occurs as a result of ageing, what does smoking have to do with it?
Smoking and degenerative discs
Although ageing and genetic predisposition are the main risk factors for degenerative discs, a growing number of studies indicate that smoking is another leading risk factor in the deterioration of both lumbar discs and cervical discs (found in the neck). Nicotine has been shown to deprive disc cells of vital nutrients as a result of small blood vessels becoming constricted. In addition to nicotine, through smoking, you introduce carbon monoxide into the bloodstream and your body's tissues. These poisons begin to inhibit the disc's ability to absorb the nutrients it needs, which can result in prematurely dehydrated and less pliable discs.
As the discs in the spine become more malnourished, there is a greater risk of a rupture occurring. This happens when the disc's contents break through the outer layer of the disc, often encroaching on nerves and causing severe pain and discomfort. These same poisons also interfere with calcium intake, leading to a compromised spinal structure and - potentially - scoliosis.
Other risks related to smoking and scoliosis include:
- Coughing - This is much more prevalent among smokers and can increase the risk of degeneration in the discs. Coughing causes increased pressure between discs, which puts added strain on both the spine and discs, resulting in a greater risk of ruptures and bulges. This is particularly common in a spine that's already been weakened by smoking-related toxins.
- Inactivity - This is often associated with a smoker's lifestyle, and can result in a higher frequency of back pain. Unfortunately, pain caused as a result of degenerated discs can make an active lifestyle even more difficult to adopt and enjoy.
Smoking and failed spinal fusion
Spinal fusion surgery is often recommended for severe cases of scoliosis. The procedure involves using a bone graft to fuse vertebrae together. The long-term success of this procedure is dependent upon successful fusion; in fact, if the fusion does not heal correctly, surgery may have to be repeated.
Many different factors can have an impact on the success of spinal fusion, including age, underlying medical conditions and - yes - cigarette smoking. Smoking disrupts the normal functions of basic body systems that contribute to bone formation and growth, which are imperative for a fusion to heal properly.
Studies have shown that habitual cigarette smoking leads to the breakdown of the spine to such a degree that fusion is often less successful when compared to similar procedures performed on non-smokers. Smoking can also have a huge impact on the immune system and the body's other defence mechanisms, which in turn can lead to an increased risk of post-operative infection.
Treatment at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic
If you've been diagnosed with de novo scoliosis and wish to avoid surgery, we at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic can provide effective exercise-based treatment that aims to correct your condition. Our ScolioGold treatment programme is designed to improve mobility, boost strength and correct abnormal posture, combining a variety of proven non-surgical techniques to achieve noticeable, lasting results.
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