Smokers More Sensitive to Pain

Two new studies are adding to the growing body of evidence that links chronic pain and smoking.


In a study of over 10,000 people, researchers in Norway found that smokers and former smokers were more sensitive to pain than non-smokers. Their study was presented at the Congress of the European Pain Federation in Florence, Italy.

“Some experimental studies have shown that smoking cigarettes and nicotine lessened sensitivity to pain, while observational studies have revealed that smokers were at higher risk of acute and chronic pain. Our aim was to investigate the association between smoker status and pain sensitivity,” explained study lead author Dr. Aslak Johansen of the University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø.

“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.”

A second study that was also presented to European Pain Federation looked at over 24,000 people who participated in the Scottish Family Health Study. Over one-third (36%) said they suffered from some form of chronic pain.

“Chronic pain patients who smoke experienced greater average pain intensity as compared to non-smokers and former smokers, as well as a higher average level of pain disability,” said Dr. Oliver van Hecke of the University of Dundee, who believes depression could play a role in the link between smoking and chronic pain.

“Specifically, it is the relationship between smoking and a history of major depression that contributes significantly to the effect of smoking on pain intensity.”

A recent study at the University of Rochester of more than 5,300 patients with spinal disorders and back pain found that patients who quit or never smoked had significantly less pain than those who continued to smoke.

smoking during treatment, you got better. If you continued to smoke, there was statistically no improvement, regardless of the treatment you had.”

During the study, patients were treated with physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, a home exercise program, injections or surgery.

Patients who never smoked reported significantly less back pain than current smokers and people who quit smoking during the study period. And people who continued to smoke reported significantly greater pain than those who had never smoked.

A recent University of Kentucky study of 6,000 women found that those who smoked heavily were twice as likely to experience chronic pain.  The women who smoked and former smokers had a greater chance of reporting at least one chronic pain syndrome compared to non-smokers.

Daily smoking also had a stronger association with chronic pain than old age, education and obesity.

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