How Smoking Can Cause or Worsen Chronic Pain

Smoking Does Not Help Relieve Pain

Chronic pain is a global problem that millions of people face daily. Not only can it wreak havoc on your overall quality of life, but chronic pain has also been linked to a wide range of physical and mental conditions. Although, in some cases, pain is unavoidable, there are numerous lifestyle choices people make that may increase their likelihood of living with pain. According to studies, one of the worst habits a person can have when it comes to staying healthy is smoking. Not only do smokers have a higher chance of disease, but smoking may also impact a person’s pain management plan.

Today we are going to take a closer look at the role smoking has in managing pain. Several recent studies have discovered that patients often turn to nicotine as a way to deal with pain, whereas others notice their pain increases with each cigarette. Furthermore, numerous conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and diabetes, have been linked to cigarette use. Because there are so many different causes of chronic pain, it is essential to understand what lifestyle choices are making matters worse. To gain insight here, it may help to look at the link between smoking and pain. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with Texas Partners Healthcare Group, please give us a call today. Our Frisco pain management team is dedicated to providing services that will address your concerns and manage pain through alternative therapies like stem cells and other forms of regenerative medicine.

Cigarettes and Chronic Pain: What We Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50 million adults in the United States alone have chronic pain (some estimate these numbers closer to 100 million). That is about 20.4 percent of the nation’s population. Globally, an estimated 1.5 billion people experience chronic pain during their lifetime. These numbers show that chronic pain isn’t just a problem here in the U.S. but throughout the world.

Sadly, the large percentage of pain sufferers either turn to narcotics or find other, potentially harmful, ways to manage their symptoms. For many, lighting up a cigarette has become the remedy of choice. However, research shows that nicotine-induced pain relief isn’t a sustainable option. In fact, it only offers short-term relief, and it may actually make symptoms worse over time. Individuals living with low back pain, in particular, may notice their condition is aggravated with smoking. There are numerous reasons for this, but researchers point out that cigarettes increase overall pain sensitivity.

In the U.S., cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, accounting for nearly 50,000 deaths every year. In 2018, 13.7 percent of adults over 18 admitted to smoking (34.2 million people). If you compare these numbers with the number of people living with chronic pain, you will undoubtedly notice an overlap. Many people turn to smoking as a way to cope with their discomfort, but we now know this may be making matters worse.

Cigarettes and Chronic Pain by the Numbers

Here are a few additional statistics to help understand the link between smoking and chronic pain:

  • Approximately 50 percent of chronic pain sufferers smoke
    • Compared to 22 percent of the U.S. population as a whole who smoke
    • Smoking is a leading risk factor for chronic pain
  • Individuals who experience chronic back or neck pain have a higher chance of smoking long-term
  • Smoking is connected to other medical problems, such as insomnia, stress, and nutritional deficiencies
  • Smoking may affect how your brain processes pain
  • Chronic pain sufferers are two to five times more likely to experience sleep disturbances
  • Smoking is a leading risk factor for chronic pain
  • Patients with chronic pain have higher rates of depression (25 to 40 percent)
  • Patients living with chronic pain are twice as likely to smoke
  • Daily smokers may experience increased levels of anxiety in the 12-24 hours after quitting

If you ask someone who smokes, they will likely tell you tobacco helps relieve their pain. But this is one of those “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” situations. While smoking may give some immediate relief, those who smoke most likely experience much higher levels of pain.

The bottom line? Smoking tobacco is NOT a long-term solution for pain relief. Although nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco may have some pain-relieving effects, symptoms will worsen when you stop smoking, and patients will notice the pain is more present than ever.

How Does Smoking Interfere with Pain Management?

Pain is tricky, whether you are living with chronic neck pain or SI joint dysfunction. And when you throw nicotine and tobacco into the mix, things get even more complicated. Because nicotine tricks the body into feeling good by releasing dopamine and other chemicals, it can keep pain sufferers coming back for more. However, tobacco also impairs the vital delivery of blood to bones, tissues, and the body’s many nooks and crannies. When the body is deprived of oxygen-rich blood and nutrients, it may lead to degeneration, specifically of the spine.

Some of the other ways smoking may interfere with pain management include:

  • Smoking may cause chronic fatigue and slow down the body’s natural healing process
  • Smoking can make other painful medical conditions worse and contribute to spinal disc deterioration, osteoporosis, and more
  • Nicotine affects the nervous system, increasing pain levels and sensitivity
  • Smoking causes people to experience pain more acutely
  • Smoking may interfere with some pain medications

Deciding to quit smoking isn’t an easy one. But if you are suffering because of another medical condition and you have been unable to find relief, it may be time to consider quitting. By taking the time to understand that smoking makes chronic pain worse, not better, you may be ready to try other lifestyle changes to help your condition. Often, patients find relief by changing their diet, doing yoga, and working with a pain specialist to get to the root of the problem. If you are ready to learn more about how to manage chronic pain, give the Frisco pain management doctors at Texas Partners Healthcare Group a call today, and schedule an appointment.