If you have chronic back pain and are a long-time smoker, the latter may be causing the former, according to a study released by the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.
A New Worry for Smokers
The study, which was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, is the first to establish that smoking might interfere with the brain receptors associated with pain. In fact, the team behind the study concluded that smokers are as much as three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than nonsmokers.
“We conclude that smoking increases risk of transitioning to chronic back pain, an effect mediated by corticostriatal circuitry involved in addictive behavior and motivated learning,” they said.
Turns out back pain is only one of 14 million serious medical conditions that are caused by smoking, according to another body of research published in October in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also names smoking as the number one cause of preventable deaths.
The Bottom Line
While people may not die from chronic back pain, they may seek relief from the pain with prescription pain medications. Pain meds – or opioids – taken for chronic conditions can quickly escalate from regular use to dependency and addiction if not closely monitored.
Back pain is one of the most common reasons for taking pain medications and is also one of the most common medical conditions in the United States.
Eighty percent of Americans are afflicted with chronic back pain at some point in their lives. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) estimates that back pain is the main reason most people call in sick to work and is the second highest reason for visits to the doctor (second to sinus infections).
The ACA urges smokers to quit because, in addition to the number it does on brain cells, “smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.”
The bottom line, according to the Northwestern study, is if you smoke and have no back pain, quit before you develop a chronic condition.
What Smokers Need to Know
If you are a smoker who’s been relieving chronic back pain with opiate medications, it’s not a good idea to simply quit the meds cold turkey. If you’ve already developed a tolerance, you’ll likely need professional help in order to fully recover.
A better course of action is to speak with a professional about enrolling in an opiate rehab program that offers smoking cessation classes. Once there, you can work with your doctor to address the back pain using non-narcotic or holistic options.
Additional Reading: Teens are Smoking and Drinking Less
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