Does Smoking Contribute to Chronic Pain?
It’s a well-known fact that smoking can increase the risk of serious disease over the long term, but research also suggests it could make your day-to-day life more difficult, too. In particular, a University of Kentucky study shows smokers are more likely to experience at least one chronic pain syndrome.
While former smokers experience a 20% greater likelihood of experiencing chronic pain, occasional smokers had a 68% increase. For daily smokers, the odds of experiencing chronic pain more than doubled compared to non-smokers. The conditions studied in the analysis included:
- Chronic joint, neck, and back pain
- Persistent head pain
- Nerve problems
- Widespread pain throughout the body
Yet, this study isn’t the only one to have associated chronic pain with smoking. In fact, nearly 50 studies conducted between the mid-1970s and 1990s link smoking to lower back pain. Facial pain, nerve pain, and knee pain are among the most prevalent complaints among groups who smoke.
What’s the Connection?
Despite the trend, researchers haven’t yet pinpointed a precise reason why smoking causes chronic pain. Of course, it must also be asked whether smoking is sometimes used as a coping mechanism for individuals experiencing persistent pain. Nonetheless, we do know certain facts about smoking which can, in part, explain how it contributes to pain:
- Nicotine is believed to modulate pain sensitivity. It may help to minimize sensitivity at first, but this effect can wear off over time. When it does, pain may feel worse.
- Smoking decreases oxygen levels in the blood, thereby preventing tissues from getting the critical oxygen they need. Thus, the habit is associated with a number of pain-inducing conditions, including osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fracture.
- Smoking and chronic pain are both commonly seen in conditions such as depression and substance abuse. These conditions might make it more difficult for individuals to manage their pain levels through healthy, effective means.
Cessation for Pain Management
While former smokers are slightly more likely to report chronic pain than individuals who have never smoked, there is a definite decrease in likelihood between former and current smokers. For this reason, researchers believe people who are experiencing chronic pain could benefit from quitting, in addition to other healthy pain management strategies. Likewise, effectively treating chronic pain could potentially increase a smoker’s odds of quitting successfully. Although further research is needed, quitting smoking will always be one of the best things you can do to improve your health, both now and into the future. If you need help in quitting smoking, there are options for you, but perhaps it may be best to start with consulting with your physician.