Lifestyle (Lifestyle Effects on Back Health)

Many people consider the condition of back pain to be synonymous with disc disease, and assume that their problem is due to a "slipped disc." Is this true in the majority of cases?

We do know that age related changes to the back, such as the degeneration of the discs, may have a role in causing back pain in people who are of middle age or older. In fact, degeneration to the discs of the back begin right around the time that that we stop growing. If you are in your mid 20s or older, your back is breaking down even as we speak! So why don't we all have back pain, and why should we even bother thinking about trying to fix our back problems when degeneration to them is inevitable? Because there are a couple of things you need to know about back health and back pain. First, just because changes to the spine such as degenerative disc disease are irreversible, our experiences of pain do not have to be irreversible. Our body has an amazing ability to adapt to changes in the body, and we often only experience pain while these changes occur. Also, these changes to the spine, such as disc disease, are not the only factor that affects our levels of comfort and mobility related to the function of our backs. The health of other structures in our backs, or those that support our backs, may be more important in the way we feel. Some of these structures that may affect the way we feel include our spinal ligaments, back muscles, abdominal muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. Like the discs, these accessory structures are all affected by the time and the aging process.

But there are lifestyle factors that have control over to extend the life of these structures so that they remain in good condition for as long as possible. Healthy lifestyle choices that may improve cardiovascular health include regular exercise and diet choices. When cardiovascular health is good, the blood vessels which supply the back with oxygen and nutrients continue to operate at a high level to repair and regenerate the back as it ages and becomes injured, on occasion. Unhealthy lifestyle factors include smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Smoking causes a constriction of the blood vessels, and a sedentary lifestyle causes de-conditioning of those muscles which support the spine. Let's take a closer look as these lifestyle effects on back health. Smoking and Alcohol Abuse: Among the three lifestyle factors that may cause increases in back pain symptoms are obesity, smoking, and excessive consumption of alcohol. Smoking and alcohol may harm the body and the back in several ways. Smoking has the effect of decreasing bone density. When the bones have a normal bone mineral density, they are able to maintain their structural integrity, and are resistant to fractures in the events of falls and other injuries. Low bone density may result in bone loss and conditions such as compression fractures in weight bearing bones, such as those in the spine.

Consumption of alcohol in quantities that are greater than 3 ounces per day has also been shown to increase bone loss. It has also been shown that people who drink too much are also likelier to smoke. For those people who are involved in both of these unhealthy lifestyle habits, treating both substance dependency problems may be especially challenging. Fortunately, research has shown that even though habits such as smoking causes permanent damage no matter when you start or stop, there are many health benefits that people may receive from kicking any of these addictions at any time. Kicking the habits of smoking or excessive usage of alcohol will decrease the likelihood of a person suffering from osteoporosis.

Smoking increases the likelihood that a person will develop osteoporosis for several reasons:
  • Smoking impairs the absorption of calcium
  • Smoking slows the rate in which bone-forming cells are able to create new bone tissue
  • For women with osteoporosis or at a high risk, many are treated with estrogen replacement therapy. Smoking reduces the protective effect of this treatment.
  • Smoking reduces the blood supply to the bones.
Indirect effects of smoking on back pain and injuries: As stated repeatedly in this website and throughout the medical literature, regular exercise often has the effect of providing many people with back pain relief. But smoking may have the effect of making some type of exercises unsafe that would be otherwise safe in other people. People who smoke are more likely to experience exercise-related injuries, such as sprains or fractures, when they work out. When smokers do sustain these types of injuries, these injuries take longer to heal. If surgery is required to fix these types of injuries, smokers are more likely to experience higher complication rates and longer recovery times. In fact, smokers are more likely to never fully recover at all from fracture related injuries.