Giving up smoking can ease your back pain, study finds

Picture: Sean Bell
Picture: Sean Bell
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GIVING UP smoking could ease severe back pain and patients should be encouraged to seek extra help to quit.

A study has found that patients with severe back pain reported “significant” improvements when they kicked the habit, compared with those who continued to smoke.

Research published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery also found that patients with spinal disorders who smoked reported more discomfort than those who did not.

Previous research has shown a link between smoking and an increased risk for lower-back pain, intervertebral (spine) disc disease and inferior patient “outcomes” following surgery.

The authors of the latest report reviewed the smoking history and monitored the reported pain of 5,333 patients with axial (back) or radicular (leg) pain from a spinal disorder, treated surgically or non-surgically, over an eight-month period.

At the time of entry into care, patients who had never smoked and smokers who had given up reported significantly less back pain than current smokers and those who had quit smoking during the study period. Current smokers reported significantly greater pain in all ratings – worst, current and average weekly pain – compared with patients who had never smoked.

Dr Glenn Rechtine, of the University of Rochester in the United States, one of the co-authors of the report that also involved the universities of Texas and Florida, said: “We know that nicotine increases pain.

“In this study, if you quit smoking during treatment, you got better. If you continued to smoke, there was statistically no improvement, regardless of the treatment you had. Smoking is bad for you. Basically, the likelihood to improve your care – surgical or non-surgical – was dramatically decreased if you are a smoker.

“This study supports the need for smoking cessation programmes for patients with a painful spinal disorder given a strong association between improved patient reported pain and smoking cessation.”

Previous research found that rates of smoking were higher for adults with chronic neck or back pain, as well as with “negative emotional symptoms”. Past studies questioned whether people with chronic pain are turning to smoking because they perceive it will help them cope.

In 2011, there were more than 100,000 attempts to quit smoking in Scotland and almost two- thirds of smokers want to quit altogether.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of public health campaigner Ash Scotland, said: “People know that smoking kills.

“This study adds to evidence that quitting smoking is the single most beneficial thing that a smoker can do to improve their health and for those who are considering quitting over the festive season it gives them one more reason to do so.”