Smoking is a risk factor for many diseases. It's also a risk factor for low back pain (LBP). This means if you smoke you're more likely to have LBP than someone who doesn't smoke. How do smokers with LBP measure up strength-wise compared to nonsmokers?
This study looked at muscle strength of the lumbar extensor muscles in four groups of men:
A special machine was used to measure the lumbar extensor muscles at seven angles of spinal flexion. Researchers found that lumbar extensor muscle strength in nonsmokers is stronger than in smokers. Nonsmokers without LBP had more muscle strength than those with LBP. The strength among smokers was about the same no matter whether they had back pain or not.
Scientists aren't sure why smokers have less lumbar extensor strength than nonsmokers. It may be that chronic nicotine causes the muscles to be malnourished. Or perhaps smokers have other bad habits such as inactivity, being overweight, or drinking too much alcohol. Overall, smokers are generally less health-conscious than nonsmokers.
This is the first study to look at lumbar muscle strength in people with and without LBP who smoke compared to those who don't smoke. More studies are needed to confirm these findings. Based on the results of this study, the authors suggest taking a smoking history with back pain patients. Reducing tobacco use and improving strength may help decrease LBP.
Saud M. Al-Obaidi, PT, PhD, et al. Differences in Back Extensor Strength Between Smokers and Nonsmokers With and Without Low Back Pain. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. May 2004. Vol. 34. No. 5. Pp. 254-260.