The Link Between Smoking and Chronic Pain

Smoking Makes Chronic Pain Worse

senior man smoking
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If you suffer from chronic pain, there are some bad habits, like smoking, that can worsen or intensify your pain. In fact, smoking can put you at higher risk for experiencing chronic pain in certain areas of your body, especially your back. In fact, smokers make up over half the number of people who get help for chronic pain, even though only 18 percent of Americans smoke.

The Link Between Smoking and Chronic Pain

Nicotine greatly reduces the efficiency with which your heart and lungs work to deliver oxygen to your body.

It also slows healing, reduces your skin’s elasticity, and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. When all of these factors combine, they not only weaken your health, but they can also intensify feelings of chronic pain.

To work efficiently, your muscles and joints need a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood. Smoking not only tightens your arteries, it decreases the rate at which oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in your blood. In other words, when you smoke, your muscles don't just get less blood, they get lower quality blood.

Smokers also aren't great candidates for surgery. If you need an implantable device to help with your chronic pain, smoking makes it much more difficult to fight off potential infection from surgery.

Other side effects of smoking include fatigue, chronic lung disorders, and a slowed ability for your body to heal itself, which indirectly affect chronic pain.

Fatigue and lung disorders lead to inactivity, which causes deconditioning. Slowed healing means that injuries affect you for longer than usual.

The Relationship Between Smoking and Chronic Back Pain

Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop chronic back pain than non-smokers. One study showed that both current and former smokers have an increased risk of lower back pain than people who have never smoked and that the association is higher in adolescents than in adults.

The association was also higher with current smokers than former or non-smokers.

Researchers from Northwestern University released the results of another study that linked smoking with chronic back pain. It's the first study to reveal that smoking interferes with a brain circuit connected with pain, which makes cigarette smokers more susceptible to chronic back pain.

The study, which tracked 160 adults with new cases of back pain, found that smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain. The study also revealed that if you drop the bad habit, you can decrease your chances of developing chronic back pain.

Quitting Smoking Helps Chronic Pain

Giving up smoking isn't easy, but it can help you get part of your life back from chronic pain. Talk to your doctor about potential medications and/or counseling options to help you quit. Not only can quitting decrease your chronic pain, it will increase your health and quality of life.


Chronic Conditions Team. Why Smoking Will Worsen Your Chronic Pain: Short-Term Relief From Nicotine Brings Long-Term Problems. Cleveland Clinic. Updated August 23, 2017.

Shiri R, Karppinen J, Leino-Arjas P, Solovieva S, Viikari-Juntura E. The Association Between Smoking and Low Back Pain: a Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Medicine. January 2010;123(1):87.e7-35. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.05.028.

Spain E. Smoking is a Pain in the Back. Northwestern University. Published November 3, 2014.