How smoking can increase back pain

How smoking can increase back pain

That next pack of smokes might just break your back.

Smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain, according to a new study out of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, that analyzed parts of the brain responsible for addiction and reward. Quitting the habit may decrease the chance of developing this often taxing condition.

“If the connection between smoking and [pain] risk is true, it gives smokers who want to quit yet another reason to keep trying,” says Dr. Aaron Miller, neurologist on staff at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “It also gives health care providers another target to identify and modify in their patients presenting with subacute back pain.”

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S., according to the American Chiropractic Association. It is also one of the most common reasons for missing work, and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office.

The study observed 160 adults who noted new instances of back pain. The research was published online in the journal Human Brain Mapping, and was funded by the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

During the study, participants were given MRI brain scans and asked to rate the intensity of their back pain at five different times throughout the course of a year. They also completed questionnaires asking about smoking status and other health issues. Another 35 healthy control participants and 32 participants with chronic back pain were monitored.

The study looked at the connection between two areas of that brain responsible for motivated learning and addiction. Researchers found that those who smoked had an increased risk of chronic back pain compared to nonsmokers.

This is the first evidence to link smoking and chronic back pain – pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks.

“The study makes a convincing argument for linking smoking to increased connectivity of two parts of the brain, and that connectivity to a higher chance of going from subacute to chronic back pain,” Dr. Miller says. “There seemed to be a strong correlation even with the small number of patients ultimately studied.”

Smoking participants who managed their chronic back pain with medication, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, experienced some pain reduction, but the medications did not alter brain circuitry, the study shows.

“I would like to see the present study’s findings replicated with a larger number of participants or at pain clinics where it would indicate more generalizable results,” Dr. Miller says. “This study demonstrates that – just as in the heart, immune system, circulatory system and lungs – the bad effects of smoking can also be at least partially reversed in the brain if one does indeed quit smoking.”

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  1. Baby

    Pass this on to Robbetti

  2. Just another good reason to stop smoking. There are plenty already. Interesting study.

  3. I would have never thought there could be a correlation between the two. Good to know.

  4. Dr. Ashwani Garg

    This article did not mention the connection between atherosclerosis and low back pain. In effect, low back pain may be a kind of degeneration that is not necessarily from wear and tear, but also from reduced vertebral and disc blood flow, causing nociceptive damage to the delicate nerve fibers and degenerative disc disease that is more than expected for the age and activity level. Please reference this excellent commentary on the subject of atherosclerosis / low back pain with accompanying references: – every patient with chronic low back pain deserves a full assessment of their cardiovascular risk because it first may start with low back pain, ending up with heart attack, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease, and even abdominal aortic aneurysm! Talk to patients about diet, exercise, quitting smoking. Put them on appropriate medications to deal with atherosclerotic risk factors if needed, and especially encourage them to adopt a low fat, plant based, whole food diet, incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, beans, and minimizing dietary fat including meat, cheese, eggs, and dairy foods. Don’t just throw a bunch of painkillers, injections and therapy at them and expect them to get better. This is exactly why if you keep everything the same and do interventions such as IDET, RFA, discectomy, etc. they will continue to do badly afterwards.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.