Alcohol, Tobacco and Back Pain.

Most people are aware that alcohol and tobacco can cause serious health problems. For example, there is a strong connection between alcohol and liver disease. Tobacco use (even second- and third-hand) has been linked to many health risks, including a wide variety of cancers and cardiovascular conditions. However, these aren’t the only health risks posed by alcohol and tobacco. Studies have indicated that in some cases, alcohol and tobacco may also contribute to back pain.

Back Pain and Alcohol Use

Researchers found that there is in fact a minor correlation between back pain and alcohol consumption. This association was primarily found in studies that investigated alcohol dependency in patients with chronic back pain. In the remaining studies, the data showed that there is not a significant statistical correlation between back pain and the amount of alcohol consumed. Therefore, the researchers concluded that there could be a link between heavy alcohol consumption and back pain.

Back Pain and Tobacco Use

Mounting evidence indicates that tobacco use is linked to back pain. In a recent study published in Human Brain Mapping, researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University examined 227 back pain patients. 160 of the participants suffered from subacute back pain lasting 4 to 12 weeks. 32 of the participants had been diagnosed with chronic back pain lasting 5 years or more. 35 participants had no back pain.

During the yearlong study, the participants completed 5 separate questionnaires that collected information about tobacco use. Each participant also underwent regular MRI brain scans. The researchers used the brain scans to examine the activity between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, two brain regions that play an important role in chronic pain development.

The results show that tobacco strengthens the connection between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex. According to the researchers, this means that people who use tobacco are 3 times more likely to develop back pain than people who do not. When participants voluntarily quit using tobacco over the course of the study, they reported less back pain. Noting this phenomenon, the researchers believe that back pain patients could benefit from a tobacco cessation program.

The results of these studies are not conclusive. However, they do suggest that some patients with chronic back pain may benefit from reducing or eliminating their use of alcohol and tobacco--especially those patients who are heavy users. There is also other research that indicates alcohol and tobacco can affect bone health--even among people who aren't actually suffering from back pain.

So if you're taking stock of all the potential benefits that come with leaving alcohol and tobacco behind, you should be sure to add musculoskeletal health to your list. Your back will thank you!