Smoking Linked to Increased Risk of Chronic Back Pain
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Thursday, November 06, 2014 10:11 AM

People who smoke are much more likely to develop chronic back pain than those who do not smoke. These are the findings of a new study.  Researchers found that people who smoke may be much more likely to develop chronic back pain, as the habit reduces their resilience to it.  This is not the first study to link smoking to chronic pain. But according to the research team, 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.

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the US, estimated to affect 8 out of 10 Americans at some point in their lives. According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the main reason for missed days at work and the second most common reason for doctor's visits.

Researchers used brain scans to assess activity between two brain regions - the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex. Both of these regions play a role in addictive behavior and motivated learning. They found that the connection between these two brain regions plays a crucial role in chronic pain development. They explain that the stronger the connection between them, the less resilient an individual is to chronic pain.  Smoking appears to affect this connection. The researchers found that compared with nonsmoking participants, those who smoked had a stronger connection between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, increasing their risk of chronic back pain. The team calculated that smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than nonsmokers.  "But we saw a dramatic drop in this circuit's activity in smokers who - of their own will - quit smoking during the study."

Because the team's findings show that smoking affects brain circuitry linked to chronic pain, they suggest that there may be a link between addiction and chronic pain in general.

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggesting that around 14 million major medical conditions in the US are attributable to smoking.