Can Smoking Make Chronic Pain Worse?

Smoking and a Possible Link to Chronic Back Pain

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 the body, especially the back.

What Is 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 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 arteries, but it decreases the rate at which oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the blood. In other words, when you smoke your muscles not only get less blood but lower quality blood.

Other side effects of smoking include fatigue, chronic lung disorders and a slowed ability for the 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, and healing from surgeries or infections can be problematic.

The Relationship Between Smoking and Chronic Back Pain

Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop chronic back pain than non-smokers.

Researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, released the results of a 2014 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.

Giving up smoking is not easy, but it can help you get part of your life back from chronic pain.


The Pain Clinic. “Stop Smoking.” ​

Jamison et al. “The Relationship Between Cigarette Smoking and Chronic Low Back Pain.” Addictive Behaviors. 1991;16(3-4):103-10.

Smoking Is a Pain in the Back. Northwestern