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Smoking can affect many areas of the body. However, many people are not aware of smoking’s impact on the spine. People who smoke experience degeneration in their spine about ten to fifteen years sooner than non-smokers. Degeneration in the spine is inevitable. Like gray hair, we will all experience it, but some will experience it sooner than others. While most people start degenerative changes in their spine in their 40s, smokers can start to have these problems in their 20s and 30s.

So, how does smoking cause degeneration? Tobacco constricts and kills the tiny blood vessels that supply the tissues in our spine, causing the discs to dehydrate and degenerate. Smoking can also affect the joints and ligaments in the spine.  

Smoking also inhibits the growth of new blood vessels, which decreases the blood supply to vital areas that are trying to heal or grow bone. In fact, smokers who undergo a spine fusion run a 15 percent greater risk of the spine not fusing properly, potentially leading to chronic pain and the need for additional surgeries.  

Spine surgeons require patients to stop smoking for a period of time prior to performing a scheduled fusion surgery. While those times vary from surgeon to surgeon, the longer a patient has been smoke-free, the better.

Here are a few suggestions to help you quit:

  • Make an appointment: Talk with your health care provider about the different smoking cessation methods
  • Call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line: This is a telephone-based smoking cessation program provided at no cost. Call (877) 270-7867 to participate in this program
  • Go online: The American Lung Association has a “Freedom from Smoking” online program. Log onto to participate
  • Go cold turkey: Quit all at once. Throw away your cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays
  • Taper off: Quit smoking by cutting back over a period of time
  • Quit aids: Use a nicotine patch, gum, inhaler or nasal spray

It can be difficult to quit smoking. It does not matter if you have tried to quit one time or 100 times, you can still successfully stop smoking. Each time you try brings you one step closer to becoming a nonsmoker. Talk to your provider to find the best option(s) for you.