Effect of Nicotine on Spinal Disc Health

Smoking & Back Pain

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reports that 12.5 percent of adults in the United States smoke cigarettes on a regular basis – though the percentage is higher among men. At 12.5 percent total, that’s 30.8 million of us. Cigarette smoking leads to the death of over 480,000 Americans every single year. But during the lives of smokers, grievances such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, and even back pain can take away from overall quality of life.

Nicotine use affects almost all bodily systems and most of our soft tissues. While the link between spinal pain and smoking isn’t one that’s incredibly well known among smokers, it’s a very real problem. Interested in learning more about the effects of nicotine on spinal disc health? The experts at Team Chiropractic are here to help demystify the topic. Read on to learn more.

The Spinal Effects of Smoking: Smoking & Back Pain

Smoking is a causal factor for diseases and disorders that affect the spine, including intervertebral disc disease and osteoporosis. Both of these create back and neck pain in patients. The simple truth is that smoking does cause back pain.

Your spinal discs connect each vertebra in your spine to the next and absorb shocks between vertebrae. Discs are made of protein, collagen, and water, and are necessary to provide movement, stability, and alignment to your back and neck. Discs do not naturally have their own blood supply, rather, they rely on the blood supply that goes to your vertebral bones. Because smoking affects almost every part of the body, it weakens each item in this makeup: your collagen levels, your blood supply, and your bone density (among other things). The link between smoking and back pain is clear.

Why is Smoking Bad For The Spine?

Smoking is bad for the spine in large part because it causes both oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. Inflammation is a whole body issue that does not stop at the health of your spine. Inflammation causes damage to your body on a cellular level, making it so that the tissues of your back and neck become weaker and weaker over time.

Smoking is a thief of much needed nutrients in your body, including collagen: a structural protein that your spinal discs need to exist and serve their purpose in supporting your back and neck. Collagen building abilities are especially essential to the healing process – say, for example, healing after a back injury. When your body doesn’t have enough nutrients and collagen, it can’t heal, and it will degenerate much more quickly than it should, leading to neck and back pain that worsens and persists.

This can be a particularly glaring issue after a patient has undergone surgery. If the patient smokes before or after surgery, smoking’s effects are at their worst and strongest. Just when the body needs all available protein and collagen to heal, smoking robs it of the presence of these necessary building blocks for strong tissues and bones. If you’ve just had spinal fusion surgery, research shows that smoking significantly impairs the ability of your body to create new molecules needed to form bone material around the metal implants. This can make recovery from spinal fusion much, much more difficult.

The problems associated with smoking aren’t limited to cigarette and cigar smokers or even to tobacco users in general. They also apply to those who use vaping devices to consume nicotine. Spinal instability and nicotine have a direct correlation; the presence of nicotine increases the degeneration of the body’s tendons, muscles and ligaments – all of which decrease muscle mass and spinal stability. When the spine lacks stability, it can’t support itself – leading to more and more injuries down the road, which the body then has difficulty healing from.

Does Smoking Cause Nerve Damage?

According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “smoking is a risk factor for neuropathic pain.” In the recent study study, it was found that the presence of nerve pain increases with factors such as the length of time a patient has been smoking, and how much and how often they smoke. The presence of nerve damage increased even more with the presence of diabetes.

Woman at chiropractor

Will Quitting Smoking Help Back Pain?

No matter how much or how often you smoke, we encourage you to explore quitting consumption of tobacco and nicotine. Based on available research, it appears that back pain can decrease as patients work on their overall health and wellness, including ceasing smoking and nicotine use. Refraining from smoking is especially important if you are about to or have recently undergone surgery. If you need help smoking, reach out to your doctor for help and for more information on resources tailored to you.

Team Chiropractic – Your Partner for Back Pain Relief in the Triangle

Are you a smoker who would like to not only quit smoking, but relieve your back pain in the process? Team Chiropractic & Sports Medicine, P.A. has got you covered throughout the Triangle – we’ve even worked as the Wolfpack’s chiropractic and sports medicine consultant.

At Team Chiro, we’re the home of evidence-based spinal reengineering and chiropractic sports medicine. With over fifty years of combined experience serving you, we are proud to deliver care to Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Research Triangle Park, Durham, Clayton, Garner, Knightdale, Zebulon, Wendell, Wake Forest, and surrounding areas in North Carolina. If you’re looking for chiropractic and acupuncture treatment in the greater Triangle area, you’ve found a partner in us! We’re accepting new patients at both of our Triangle locations in North Hills and Wakefield. Schedule an appointment online or contact us by phone at (919)-788-8881 or (919)-570-6160 to set up your initial appointment and x-ray at either of our locations. We look forward to helping restore your health!


Raleigh Office

309 West Millbrook Road
Suite 199
Raleigh, NC 27609


Monday: 7:30AM–12PM & 3PM–6PM
Tuesday: 7:30AM–12PM & 3PM–6PM
Wednesday: 7:30AM–12PM
Thursday: 7:30–12PM & 3PM–6PM
Friday: 7:30AM–12PM
Saturday & Sunday: Closed

Wakefield Office

12740 Spruce Tree Way
Suite 103
Raleigh, NC 27614


Monday: 7:30AM–12PM & 3:30–5:45PM
Tuesday: 7:30AM–12PM
Wednesday: 7:30AM–12PM & 3:30–5:45PM
Thursday: 3:30–5:45PM
Friday: 7:30AM–12PM
Saturday & Sunday: Closed

$47 New Patient Coupon