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How Smoking Affects Chronic Pain

January 2, 2022

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January 2, 2022 Jeff Blanchard

How Smoking Affects Chronic Pain

Ashtray full of cigarettes behind blog title banner-how smoking affects chronic pain

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 from back pain. In fact, smokers are found to be nearly three times as likely to develop lower back pain than nonsmokers.

According to many pain management specialists, smoking and nicotine use may worsen chronic pain over time. To highlight this point, consider this: About 18 percent of people in the United States are smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet smokers make up more than 50 percent of patients who seek treatment for chronic pain (1). This trend holds true for men and women, manual laborers and white-collar workers alike.

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).

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.

Pile of used cigarettesBut 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 compared to other parts of the body. This degeneration can result in many various conditions, such as herniated discs, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, and osteoporosis.

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

For those already suffering from chronic pain conditions, smoking carries an extra burden. Smoking inhibits the immune system and increases the risk of infection after a surgical procedure. As a result, smokers are often poor candidates for revolutionary pain management treatments, like implantable stimulators (1).

Quit Smoking Today

Giving up cigarettes can dramatically lower your risk of developing chronic pain conditions. As an added bonus, quitting smoking also reduces your chances of developing serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Here are some suggestions to help you on your journey to quit smoking:

  • Schedule a specific day when you will quit
  • Ask your doctor about medication or nicotine replacement products
  • Get support from family and friends, or join a support group
  • Avoid alcohol and other smoking triggers
  • Find a distraction, like taking a walk or calling a close friend

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 cigarettes is one of the most unhealthy things you can do, so quitting can help you live a better and more fulfilling life with less pain!


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