Causes of backache

It is often unclear what causes backache

The lower back consists of various structures, e.g. vertebrae (bone), muscles, connective tissue, tendons, nerves and joints. All these structures can be damaged or degenerate.

Abnormalities in these various tissues may cause discomfort and symptoms, either singlehandedly or in tandem with other abnormalities. Depending on the severity of these abnormalities, a person may experience severe or less severe backache. Therefore, treating backache can be quite complicated, since it is often unclear what exactly causes backache.

The ageing spine

Ageing of the spine is a natural process that everyone who is growing older will experience to some extent. Why some people suffer backache while others don’t is largely determined by a congenital predisposition. In other words, it is embedded in our DNA. Some people grow bald at age 30, whereas others have backs that age faster than other people’s. What we do know is that certain external factors may negatively impact the rate at which the spine ages.

Smoking makes your spine age faster

Smoking is such a factor. The harmful agents that are absorbed into a smoker’s body not only put smokers at an increased risk of suffering cardiovascular disease or lung cancer, but also render a smoker’s bones softer. In addition, smokers’ bones regrow more slowly after a fracture, and their regrowth tends to be of a lower quality.

Increased risk of complications when undergoing surgery

Smoker patients who must undergo surgery to have their vertebrae fused (spinal instability surgery) are at an increased risk of complications, due to the fact that their bones will not heal quite as well after the operation.

Such patients can significantly increase their chances of a proper recovery following spinal instability surgery. You see, it has been demonstrated that quitting smoking considerably improves the quality of a patient’s bones. If a patient of mine is a candidate for spinal fusion, which involves fixating the lower back at a certain point, I will require him or her to quit smoking first, as this will increase his or her chances of a successful operation. There are other advantages to quitting smoking, as well. If a patient who smokes 20 cigarettes a day quits smoking, s/he will save almost €2,200 a year!

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