By Patrick N. Smith, M.D.

Every year in the United States about 65 million people will be suffering from back pain. Roughly ninety percent of the U.S population will experience at least one debilitating back-pain event in their lives. It is also estimated that back pain will cost the U.S. approximately 50 billion dollars in lost wages annually. It is the second most common reason a person sees the doctor (only behind the common cold!). So, WHY SO MUCH BACK PAIN? GOOD QUESTION! Here are two commonly overlooked risk factors:

SMOKING – One of the most unrecognized risk factors for back problems is smoking. Approximately 43 million Americans smoke, or about 19% of the population. Smoking has been linked to heart disease and several cancers, but here’s another reason to stop- smoking has been linked to degenerative disc disease, a progressive deteriorating condition of the lumbar spine. Research published in the American Journal of Medicine found a greater than 30% increased risk for low back in smokers compared to non-smokers. Due to the decrease blood flow caused by nicotine and the lowering of oxygen in the blood, it is felt that smoking disrupts the supply of vital nutrients and oxygen to the discs in the back contributing to their degradation. The positive news is that patients can reverse theses deleterious effects of smoking simply by QUITTING!

OBESITY – According to the American Obesity Association 64% of adult Americans are categorized as overweight or obese. Obesity has become not only a problem in the U.S. but now a global epidemic. Patients who are overweight often find themselves more sedentary avoiding regular daily exercises. Fatigue and shortness of breath results in exercise intolerance and deconditioning. Lack of exercise weakens the muscles surrounding the spine contributing to pain, particularly in the lower lumbar region. The excess weight also places stress across the intervertebral discs contributing to the deteriorating process. Lack of core strength often seen By Patrick N. Smith, M.D. in obese patients can pull the pelvis forward causing mal-alignment of the lower lumbar spine contributing to low back pain. In order to address this issue, patients need to engage in a regular exercise program consisting of an aerobic-style, low impact program. These activities include biking, swimming, walking and weight lifting with high repetition and low weights. Find activities that are enjoyable and make a regimen that becomes part of your daily schedule. This can lead to a sustainable exercise program leading to a healthier back!