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Back Pain Health Center

Many Lower Back Problems a Consequence of Body Shape -- Except Among Smokers

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Adams says that behavior such as poor lifting technique naturally can cause lower back pain. He also noted that one other behavior can: smoking. Researchers whose findings appeared in the April 1999 issue of Occupational Medicine came to the same conclusion.

D. Ehrmann Feldman, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Montreal who studied 500 students between grades 7 and 9, agrees. "The most important finding of the study was that smoking appears to be a risk factor for the development of low back pain in adolescents," Feldman tells WebMD. "We found that teens who smoked were approximately 2.5 times as likely to develop low back pain as nonsmokers. We also found a dose-response association; those students who smoked more were more likely to develop low back pain."

Feldman says one intriguing aspect of this study of smoking and back pain is that these students could not have had very long smoking histories since they were so young. "It may be that relatively short smoking histories are detrimental to growing tissue," he tells WebMD. While there have been other studies showing a connection between smoking and lower back pain, the Canadian research is the first one to show a relationship between smoking and low back pain in young people.

How does smoking hurt people's backs? Smoking reduces blood circulation all over the body, even in the tissues of the lower spine. Less circulation means more risk for back pain and less ability to heal injuries.

Feldman believes this information should be publicized among young people. While the young are well aware of the risks of cancer and heart disease from smoking, publicizing those risks haven't had much of an effect on deterring young people from smoking. "Although anti-smoking campaigns have not been all that successful with teenagers, it is hoped that as more adverse reactions to smoking are discovered, the appeal of smoking will be diminished for young people," Feldman tells WebMD. "Now maybe we can add healthier backs to the benefits of quitting or not starting."

Feldman believes further study on biological effects of smoking in growing adolescents on musculoskeletal tissue, specifically, the spine, may be warranted.

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