Does Smoking Make Chronic Pain Worse?


SmokingIf you suffer from fibromyalgia and happen to be a smoker, then you are probably more than used to hearing negative things about your smoking habit. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, smoking really isn’t doing you any favours. As Bruce Vrooman, MD, a specialist in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pain Management explains:

“While some patients appreciate the short-term, nicotine-induced relief of a cigarette, it may actually worsen their pain over time”

How does smoking affect chronic pain?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, smoking can affect the symptoms of chronic pain in the following ways:

  • The nicotine in tobacco releases chemicals into your body like dopamine – giving off a “reward” sensation. This is one of the reasons that smoking can be so addictive;
  • The chemicals in tobacco also inhibit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the tissues and bones. As blood flow is already limited to some areas of the body, such as the discs in the spine, degeneration can occur: sometimes resulting in lower back pain and osteoporosis;
  • Smoking is often connected to fatigue and slower healing.  This can have a negative impact upon conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Studies (that focus upon the links between smoking and fibromyalgia) show that smoking can also have the following negative effects:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Increased tender points
  • Depression (women only)

Further clinical evidence

Over the years, researchers have been exploring the links between smoking and chronic pain and have all come to the same conclusion… it’s time to stop!

  • In 2014, researchers at the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine revealed that smokers are more than 3 times more likely than non-smokers to develop chronic pain. Lead author of the study and a technical scientist at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Bogdan Petre describes how: “Smoking affects the brain…We found that it affects the way the brain responds to back pain and seems to make individuals less resilient to an episode of pain.”
  • In 2012, a team at the University of Rochester conducted a study of more than 5,300 patients who suffered from chronic pain; and the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that those: “who quit or never smoked had less pain than those who continued to smoke.”
  • In 2013, Norwegian researchers surveyed over 10,000 people before concluding that there was a definite link between smoking and chronic pain. Research leader, Dr. Aslak Johansen of the University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, reports:
    “The smokers had the lowest tolerance to pain induced by cold water, followed by the former smokers, and men and women who had never smoked had the highest pain tolerance. These results suggest that nicotine consumption leads to a long-term hyperalgesic effect.”

How do I quit?

You have read the evidence and know the facts, but for the long-term and occasional smoker alike, tobacco is a famously hard habit to quit. So, what’s the best way to go about it?

The first thing to do is focus on the amazing benefits that a smoke-free life can bring you. Your GP can talk you through the options for quitting that may include the following:

  • NHS Stop Smoking Service
    Your local NHS Stop Smoking Service can provide you with one-to-one or group support, expert advice and plenty of encouragement;
  • E-cigarettes
    These electronic devices replicate real cigarettes by producing a vapour that is potentially less harmful than tobacco.  Whilst clinical trials are yet to confirm the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes, they have become an increasingly popular method to quit smoking;
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
    NRT can help ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with smoking, by releasing a controlled amount of nicotine into your body.  NRT can come in a number of different forms, including the following:

    • Skin patches
    • Nasal spray
    • Mouth Spray
    • Inhalators
    • Chewing gum
    • Tablets, strips and lozenges
  • Medications
    For those that find it impossible to quit with other methods, your GP may prescribe one of the following two medications:

It’s important to note that these medications are not suitable for everybody and do come with a risk of side effects. You can do some further reading here.

Has smoking had an adverse affect on your chronic pain symptoms? Have you quit smoking and found that your symptoms have improved? We’d appreciate your thoughts and feedback!

We do not endorse any research, studies or sources mentioned within our blogs and comments. Furthermore, we do not endorse any medical advice provided, and would strongly recommend anyone seeking medical advice to contact their local healthcare provider.


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