Back Pain May Ease for Smokers Who Quit: Study

Spinal disorder patients who didn't smoke reported much less discomfort

FRIDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Quitting smoking helps reduce back pain in people being treated for spinal problems, according to a new study.

The findings show the need for programs to help these patients quit smoking, the researchers said.

They looked at more than 5,300 patients who had back pain caused by a spinal disorder and underwent surgical or nonsurgical treatment over eight months.

When they began treatment, prior smokers and patients who had never smoked reported much less back pain than current smokers and those who quit smoking during the study. Current smokers had significantly greater scores on all pain ratings used in the study -- worst, current and average weekly pain -- than patients who never smoked.

Patients who quit smoking during treatment reported greater improvements in pain than those who continued to smoke, according to the study, which was published in the December issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

"We know that nicotine increases pain," study author Dr. Glenn Rechtine, of the department of orthopedics at the University of Rochester in New York, said in a journal news release. "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 nonsurgical -- was dramatically decreased if you are a smoker."

"This study supports the need for smoking cessation programs for patients with a painful spinal disorder given a strong association between improved patient-reported pain and smoking cessation," Rechtine added.

Although the study found an association between smoking cessation and decreased back pain, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about back pain.

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