Chronic Pain Health — 06 December 2012

There’s another reason to finally put down that cigarette. A new study says kicking the habit can help alleviate back and leg pain.

After an eight month study of more than 5,300 patients with spinal disorders and back pain, researchers at the University of Rochester said those who quit or never smoked had less pain than those who continued to smoke.

“We know that nicotine increases pain,” said study author Glenn Rechtine, MD, University of Rochester‘s Department of Orthopedics. “In this study, if you quit smoking during treatment, you got better. If you continued to smoke, there was statistically no improvement, regardless of the treatment you had.”

During the study, patients were treated with physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, a home exercise program, injections or surgery.

Patients who never smoked reported significantly less back pain than current smokers and people who quit smoking during the study period. And people who continued to smoke reported significantly greater pain than those who had never smoked.

The study, published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, joins an ever-growing body of research showing a link between smoking and an increased risk of low back pain, spinal disc disease, and poor outcomes following surgery.

Nonetheless, Rechtine and his team say their research indicates that smoking is a modifiable risk factor for chronic pain that can have either a positive or negative effect on a patient’s treatment and recovery.

“Clinical studies have shown that very few patients who undergo treatment for chronic pain quit smoking, despite a variety of supportive measures for treatment,” the authors wrote.

Those who did quit smoking during the study reported greater improvement in back pain than those who continued to smoke. Lower pain levels were also clinically significant in nonsmokers, while those who continued smoking during treatment had no significant improvement.

“This study supports the need for smoking cessation programs for patients with a painful spinal disorder given a strong association between improved patient reported pain and smoking cessation,” said Rechtine. “Smoking is bad for you. Basically, the likelihood to improve your care — surgical or non-surgical —was dramatically decreased if you are a smoker.”

A recent University of Kentucky study of 6,000 women found that those who smoked heavily were twice as likely to experience chronic pain.  The women who smoked and former smokers had a greater chance of reporting at least one chronic pain syndrome compared to non-smokers.

Daily smoking also had a stronger association with chronic pain than old age, education and obesity.

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Richard Lenti

Richard Lenti has worked as a news writer for the last 20 years at various television stations in Los Angeles. He is a Golden Mike winner and a graduate of California State University, Fresno. With roots in print journalism, Richard is excited to be “published” once again; having people read his work as opposed to having it read to them. As a freelance writer his work has appeared in the Easy Reader, L.A. Jazz Scene, Irrigation and Green Industry, and the KCAL 9 Online website.

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