How Smoking Affects Your Chronic Pain

Short-term relief from nicotine brings long-term problems.

It is no secret that smoking can wreak havoc on your health, but did you know that this bad habit may have a surprising connection with your back pain? In many recent studies, smokers seem to be more likely than nonsmokers to suffer with sore backs. This trend holds true for men and women, manual laborers and white-collar workers. These investigations raise many new questions about the root causes of pain. It also gives smokers a new motivation to pursue a healthy and pain-free lifestyle by “putting out” their old habit. (2)

According to many pain management specialists, smoking and nicotine use may worsen your pain over time. Did you know, smokers are nearly three times as likely to get lower back pain? About 18 percent of people in the United States are smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet smokers make up more than 50 percent of patients who seek pain treatment. (1)


Smoking is more than a bad habit.

The nicotine in tobacco can trick the body into feeling good – at first. It triggers the release of chemicals, like dopamine, which give off a satisfying, “reward” sensation. It’s what makes smoking so addictive.

But that same tobacco also impairs the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to bones and tissues. Decreasing blood and nutrient flow can cause degeneration, particularly in discs of the spine, which already have more limited blood flow. The result can be lower back pain and sometimes osteoporosis.

Physicians also link smoking with fatigue and slower healing, factors that make painful conditions more prominent. Researchers are exploring even more physiological reasons why smoking makes people with fibromyalgia, arthritis and other chronic pain hurt more. (1)


Quit Today

Giving up cigarettes will dramatically lower the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Kicking the bad habit may also help diminish your back pain!

Twin Cities Pain Clinic has some suggestions on how to help you quit smoking:

·        Schedule your “quit day”

·        Ask your doctor about medication or nicotine replacement products.

·        Get support from family and friends, or join a support group.

·        Avoid alcohol and other triggers

·        Take a walk whenever you feel the urge to smoke.


Our bodies are made up of many remarkable systems. When we make healthy lifestyle choices, it has the opportunity to run like a well-oiled machine. Smoking cessation, healthy diet, and exercise are all decisions that will help you live your life with less pain! 









Palmer, K.T. et al. Smoking and musculoskeletal disorders: Findings from a British national survey. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. January 2003. 62: 33-36.

Goldberg, M.S. et al. A review of the association between cigarette smoking and the development of nonspecific back pain and related outcomes. Vol.25 (8): 995-1014.

Deyo, R.A. and J.N. Weinstein. Primary care: Low back pain. New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 344 (5) 363-370.

Mikkonen, P, et al. Is smoking a risk factor for lower back pain in adolescents? A prospective cohort study. Spine. March 1, 2008; 33(5): 527-32.


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