In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Does Tobacco Impact Chronic Pain?

Person holding lighter that lit a cigarette

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 out of every 100 adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes, which is around 14% of the adult population. They also report that it is one of the leading causes of preventable disease, disability, and death in the country [1]. Many of those who smoke tobacco also have chronic pain, but they may not be aware of the way the two are connected. So does smoking tobacco impact chronic pain?

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Research Shows the Effect of Tobacco on Chronic Pain

Shared the findings from a narrative review of the literature regarding the complex interaction between smoking and chronic pain [2]. Researchers reviewed the literature on the topic that is available up to this point. Everyone who smokes should be made aware of these findings, making it important for those who have chronic pain to learn about, as well as for those who work in pain management.

The study found that tobacco smoking is a risk factor for chronic pain. This is because it involves the nociceptors, which are sensory end organs found in the skin, joints, viscera, and muscle. The nociceptors respond to something that is found to be a damaging stimuli, which is what a cigarette is.

For example, take someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. That’s 20 times per day that their fingers are coming in contact with stimuli that is damaging the nociceptors. Over time, this ends up leading to chronic pain.

This is a bit of a viscous circle, however, because the tobacco acts as an analgesic. That means when the person smokes, often due to the stress of the pain, they get temporary relief from the pain. They are essentially getting short-term pain relief from the cause of the chronic pain. This makes it more difficult for them to successfully give up smoking.

The researchers suggest that it’s important for those who smoke and have chronic pain to try some holistic therapeutic strategies to try to successfully quit smoking. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that there are holistic approaches that have helped people with their smoking cessation efforts [3].

Holistic Treatments

Smoking is a difficult habit for many people to kick due to the addictive properties in cigarettes. Those who have chronic pain and smoke may want to give serious consideration to trying cessation programs until they are successful, as doing so may bring chronic pain relief.  Thus smoking tobacco does indeed have impact on chronic pain, so think carefully.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current cigarette smoking among adults in the United States. March 2021.
  2. La Revue des Maladies Respiratoires. Relation between tobacco smoking and pain. February 2021.
  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Complimentary health approaches for smoking cessation. January 2021.
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