Smoking and Chronic Pain

Define Insanity

If you knew that what you were doing would make your pain level shoot through the roof, would you keep doing it? Sanity suggests you would stop - but in reality, many people who suffer with pain smoke as a means of dealing with it. As a matter of fact, there have been studies done showing that people in chronic pain smoke tobacco at an increased rate over the general public - even though smoking exacerbates pain.

On the Merry-Go-Round

So then, what's the reason for increased tobacco use in people with chronic pain? It appears that smoking is the method of choice for some people in terms of pain management. When pain increases, smoking increases as well. Additionally, it is speculated that people in chronic pain smoke as a result of the depression and anxiety that results from the pain they are in. It is a vicious cycle since smoking interferes with pain management in a variety of ways. Smoking increases pain and people smoke more in response to the pain in a bid to ease it. Smokers with chronic pain tend to be less responsive to pain treatment and therapies because of their increased smoking.

How Smoking Interferes with Pain Management

This is how the experts say smoking can interfere with pain management and chronic pain treatments:

· Smoking causes or worsens painful medical conditions. It goes without saying that smoking is harmful to the body. It is also a precursor to diseases that generate chronic pain. For example, smoking can affect a person with chronic neck and back pain by contributing to osteoporosis. Smoking also contributes to joint pain such as that found in arthritis.

· Smoking causes an increase in pain sensitivity. People who smoke perceive pain more acutely than those who don't smoke. Because of the effect of nicotine on the nervous system, the perceptions and sensitivities to pain are increased.

· Smoking interferes with pain medications. Larger doses of all types of pain medications are required to administer pain relief to smokers.

How Metals in Cigarette Smoke Cause an Increase in Pain

A study that looked at the effects of nickel (nickel sensitization) as it relates to cigarette smoking in women with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and muscle pain, determined that cigarette smoking increases pain levels in women with chronic pain. The reason for this may be the fact that a connection may exist between nickel allergy and cigarettes since nickel and other metals occur in trace amounts in mainstream cigarette smoke. This suggests that exposure to cigarette smoke can be a trigger for hyperactivity in a person already dealing with nickel allergy.

Fibro Flare-Ups Increase with Smoking

Many fibromyalgia sufferers find that lighting up can actually light up more than the cigarette. There are many negative effects to fibromyalgia sufferers when they smoke:

· Flare-ups are often triggered by nicotine inhalation. It appears this may be a result of the effects of nicotine on the muscles.

· Nicotine impairs muscle function by reducing the amount of oxygen that circulates in the body. Muscles don't get the oxygen necessary to repair tears and pain ensues.

· Muscle contractions have also been linked to nicotine, which may account for restless leg syndrome and sleep disorders, both of which are common to fibromyalgia sufferers.

· Nicotine is a stimulant and as such increases mental tension, which in turn intensifies pre-existing muscle tension.

· Nicotine also raises acid levels in the blood leading the way to any number of cancers. Since people with chronic pain tend to smoke more, the incidence of diseases increases exponentially.

· Nicotine is linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression - characteristics of fibromyalgia.

A study out of Korea provided evidence that smoking heightens the symptoms of fibromyalgia and that compared with non-smoking fibromyalgia patients, smokers had more tender points and female smokers were more likely to be depressed.

It would appear that quitting smoking would be beneficial to those suffering with chronic pain. Medications would be more effective, perhaps rates of depression and anxiety would drop, or at least be more manageable, and overall health would improve.