Smoking linked to chronic back pain
Smoking may increase a person’s risk of developing chronic back pain, according to new research.
Scientists from Northwestern University recruited 160 volunteers who had subacute back pain–back pain that had lasted between four and 12 weeks; 32 volunteers who had chronic back pain–back pain that had lasted for five years or more and 35 participants with no back pain at all.
All participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their smoking status and health conditions, which they filled out on five separate occasions during one year. They also received brain scans, which were meant to analyze activity between the two brain regions–the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex–that play a role in cognitive behaviors, such as motivated learning and addictive behavior.
The researchers found that a strong connection between the two brain regions under study was connected to increase susceptibility to chronic pain. They also found that smoking affected the connection. The participants who smoked had a higher risk of chronic back pain, when compared to those who did not smoke.
The researchers then studied whether participants who smoked could change their brain activity and lower their chronic pain by either quitting smoking or by taking anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain medications. They found that while taking drugs helped with pain reduction, quitting smoking was the only way actually change the brain activity related to chronic pain.
The study’s findings, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, suggests that people who smoke and have chronic pain may benefit from smoking cessation programs or other behavioral interventions. Future studies may focus on whether there is a link between chronic pain and addiction.