Smokers are much more likely to report problems with persistent musculoskeletal pain than non-smokers, according to a new study reported in the Journal of Pain, published by the American Pain Society.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky School of Public Health surveyed more than 6000 women participating in the Kentucky Women's Health Registry, which regularly polls women on health-related issues to better understand the state's disease burden. The study was intended to assess the association of smoking with the presence of different types of chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Only two states have a higher smoking prevalence than Kentucky, estimated at 25 percent. The state also ranks first in smoking-related deaths per capita among women.

Several previous studies have linked smoking and chronic pain, especially low back pain. The consensus of past research is that smokers of both sexes are more likely than nonsmokers to report pain syndromes.

The Kentucky researchers categorized survey respondents according to age and smoking status, with smokers further classified by their amount of daily cigarette intake. Respondents also were asked about pain symptoms and if they had been diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain disorders, such as fibromyalgia and low-back pain. Pain variables selected for analysis were the presence or absence of low-back pain, neck pain, sciatica, nerve pain, fibromyalgia, joint pain and pain all over the body.

The study findings showed that smokers are significantly more likely to report chronic pain than nonsmokers. Daily smokers were two times more likely to report pain than non smokers. Those who smoke a pack or more a day also were most likely to report a high burden of chronic pain.

The authors noted that smoking-induced coughing increases abdominal pressure and back pain and nicotine may decrease pain thresholds by sensitizing pain receptors. The study also showed a dose-dependent relationship between smoking frequency and having chronic pain syndrome. This may indicate that smoking cessation treatments could be helpful for chronic pain management therapy.

Source: American Pain Society

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