New research presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting (Sacramento, California) is characterized as the first to associate smoking with degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. This connection is an addition to the previously observed impact of smoking on disc degeneration in the lumbar spine, according to the study authors. Lead investigator Mitchel Leavitt, MD, resident physician at Emory University’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, observed that nicotine abuse is known to increase the risk of microvascular disease. He further explained: “Intervertebral discs receive their nourishment from the microvasculature that line the endplates on either side of each disc; when these blood vessels are damaged, the discs do not receive nourishment and this may speed up the degenerative process.”
The study findings were based on evaluation of CT scans of 182 patients, 34% of whom were smokers. The team developed scores of cumulative cervical disc degeneration and correlated these to the patient’s smoking status and intensity measured in pack/years of smoking. Current smokers were found to have more cervical degenerative disc disease. Dr. Leavitt commented, “Pain and spine clinics are filled with patients who suffer chronic neck and back pain, and this study provides the physician with more ammunition to use when educating them about their need to quit smoking.”
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A news story about the findings, together with the journal abstract, may be read here.