Smoking Linked to Increased Risk of Chronic Back Pain

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the myCME.com take:

Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain, according to a new study led by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. This is not the first study to link smoking to chronic pain, but it is the first to suggest that smoking may actually interfere with a brain circuit associated with pain. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Back pain is a common medical complaint in the United States, affecting approximately 8 out of 10 Americans at some point. This study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, implies that smokers can decrease their risk for chronic pain by cutting out smoking.
  • Smokers had a stronger connection between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, two regions of the brain that play a significant role in chronic pain development. This connection increases their risk of chronic back pain because the stronger the link, the less resilient the individual becomes to chronic pain.
  • Good news: Smokers who quit smoking during the study saw a decrease in chronic pain when they stopped smoking.
  • Participants who managed their pain with anti-inflammatory drugs did see a reduction in pain, but the medications did not alter brain circuitry.
  • Based on these findings, the researchers hypothesize that there may also be a link between addiction and chronic pain. This is because the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex also play a role in addictive behavior.

Smoking linked to increased risk of chronic back pain
Smoking linked to increased risk of chronic back pain
This is not the first study to link smoking to chronic pain. But according to the research team, led by Bogdan Petre of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, it is the first study to suggest that smoking interferes with a brain circuit associated with pain, making smokers more prone to chronic back pain.
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