Neck Pain and Smoking – What’s the Connection?

There is a lot of convincing peer-reviewed literature that supports chiropractic care as one of the first and best courses of care to consider when choosing a treatment option for neck pain and headaches.

This is because there is low risk, few rare side-effects, and most importantly, it really works! But, there are other considerations in the management of neck and headache pain that perhaps we haven’t thought about. One is smoking.

Studies that link smoking and neck pain

There are several convincing studies that have looked at the exposure to tobacco smoke and smoking in terms of its effect on neck pain. Here are some statistics:

One study reported that as many as 213 per 1000 people reported neck pain. The 12-month prevalence of neck pain ranged between 30-50 percent of which activity-limiting pain was reportedly as high as 11.5 percent.

Risk factors for neck pain

Women were found to be more at risk than men which peaks in middle age. Risk factors for neck pain include genetics, poor psychological health, and exposure to tobacco. Interestingly, smoking/exposure to tobacco is listed as a risk factor but disk degeneration is not!

Researchers also pointed out that the use of equipment made to prevent injury to the head/neck such as helmets and face shields was not associated with increased risk for neck injury in bicycling, hockey or skiing as some have suggested that wearing protective headgear increases vulnerability to injury. This is not the case, so wear your helmet!

This study concluded that there are some things we can’t modify regarding increased risk of developing neck pain (such as gender, genetics, and age); however, the modifiable risk factors of smoking, exposure to tobacco, and psychological health can be helped so that’s the least we should do!

Smoking can double your chances of developing arthritis

Two new studies show that smoking is directly tied to neck/back pain and the development of arthritis. Interestingly, the Harvard study reported that the risk of developing psoriatic arthritis was twice as high for current vs. past smokers. Both current and past smokers were at greater risk when compared to those who had never smoked.

The 2nd study (Paris, France) found that smokers had an earlier onset of inflammatory back/neck pain and a worse course of the disease than non-smokers.

Taking these two studies together, the interactions between environmental factors and the onset, the degree of severity and the ultimate outcomes of rheumatic diseases, “…it’s becoming increasingly clear how detrimental the influence of smoking is on most of these diseases.” The worst scenario was found in those who smoked >25 years and, >20 “pack years” (>1 pack/day for 20+ years).

How smoking affects your future

The bottom line is that smoking and exposure to smoke have significant negative health effects, not only for present health but also for future pain, suffering, and quality of life. Thankfully, it’s been shown that if you quit smoking, the likelihood of improved health is high so, of course, quit now and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

In fact, a conscientious surgeon recommending a spinal fusion may say, “…you must quit smoking or else I will not perform the surgery that you need.” The reason for this insistence is because the risk of fusion failure goes up 500 percent in smokers (fusions are needed in certain types of back and neck surgeries).

We can help

Do you still smoke and if so, are you experiencing neck pain? The first thing to do is quit smoking and if you need help, we can point you in the right direction. If you are experiencing neck pain, please give us a call 732-984-9597 to discuss how our chiropractic, pain management, or acupuncture services can help.

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