Could Cutting Nicotine Spell Back Pain Relief? New York Study Says Yes

smoking and back painThe campaign against smoking has a new ally in the orthopedic community, thanks to a New York study linking nicotine use to back pain.

The study, led by University of Rochester Medical Center surgeon Glenn R. Rechtine, M.D., looked at more than 5,300 patients suffering from spinal disorders over a period of eight months.The result: Cigarette smokers reported far more pain than those who quit during that time period.

The New York study was published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery this month. “We found that people who stopped smoking had meaningful benefit by reduction of their pain,” said Caleb Behrend, M.D., chief resident in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York. “The pain improvement is in addition to all the other benefits you gain from quitting.”

Smoking opponents have long pointed to major health problems conclusively caused by smoking, including lung cancer and emphysema. So stop smoking and you’ll stop having back pain, right?

The answer isn’t so cut and dry. Nicotine has analgesic properties – part of what makes it so enjoyable to smokers – but also has known negative effects on proteins that are central to the processing of anxiety and pain. In short, it can make you feel good and bad.

Researchers in the New York study sought to better understand this complex relationship between nicotine and back pain, as well as potentially discover a cheap alternative to back pain surgery for some patients. They reviewed a database of 5,333 patients treated with surgery, physical therapy, injections, over-the-counter medicines and home exercise programs. All were counseled to stop smoking.

The study found that those who recently quit or quit during treatment reported less pain than smokers over the eight-month period. People who continued to smoke, meanwhile, saw no improvement in pain.

Researchers hope to encourage physicians to add smoking cessation to the list of low-cost methods of back pain relief.

It’s proven that nicotine can impair oxygen delivery to tissues, predisposing smokers to pain. Yet nicotine has also been studied for its therapeutic potential in treating everything from depression to Parkinson’s disease.

That puts smokers seeking back pain relief in a quandary.

What do you say –

Has smoking or not smoking had any impact on your back pain? Does the temporary relief it bring outweigh any potential health problems it can cause?

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