What is the link between chronic pain and smoking?

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More than half of people that are living with a chronic pain condition are also smokers. This is an incredibly high percentage when you consider that only around 15% of all people in the UK smoke. People that have long term chronic back or neck pain conditions are even more likely to smoke than others. Personally, I have no experience of smoking, so I don’t fully understand the way smoking makes you feel or how it can affect your pain. However, it is thought that more people with chronic pain smoke because they use it as a method for pain relief. But why?

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Studies show that the number of cigarettes that people smoke increases when their pain is worse, possibly because they feel that it gives them some relief. There is also a potential link with mental health issues that surround chronic pain. It is very common for people with chronic pain to have problems with anxiety and depression as well, and they may be using cigarettes to manage those symptoms as well. 

Does it work? 

The first question that people have about the link between chronic pain and smoking is, does it work? The short answer to that is, no it doesn’t. The evidence actually shows that, although people think that smoking will relieve their chronic pain, it actually makes it worse, and there are a number of reasons for this. 

Man lighting a cigarette in the dark

Firstly, smoking causes a whole host of debilitating medical conditions. If you are a regular smoker, you increase your chances of developing conditions that will cause you even more pain on top of your existing chronic pain issue. 

Secondly, smoking increases your sensitivity to pain. Tobacco has an effect on your nervous system and can lead you to perceive pain differently. In most cases, it makes people more sensitive to pain. 

Finally, it can interfere with your pain medication. A lot of people don’t like to take medication and there are some good reasons for this, but if you do, smoking is a bad idea. While the medication still works, smokers require higher doses before it works. This does also mean that any side effects will be increased as well. 


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What can you do? 

If you are a smoker and you have a chronic pain condition, it’s important that you give up. Smoking is bad for anybody’s health and everybody should try to quit, but it’s especially important for people with chronic pain conditions because it will make them a lot worse. 

The best way to quit is to choose a specific day that you are going to quit on. This gives you time to prepare and makes you more likely to succeed. If you try to quit immediately, you will find it a lot harder. Give yourself around a week to prepare. During this time, you should get some nicotine replacement products like e cigarettes and e liquid, or some nicotine patches. These will help to ease the transition. 

Even though it may seem as if smoking is helping your chronic pain, it actually has the opposite effect, so give up today. Once you give up smoking, you should notice an improvement in your pain, and you will be more receptive to treatments.

Your thoughts

Are you a smoker?

Do you feel it helps your pain?

Have you thought about giving up?


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2 thoughts on “What is the link between chronic pain and smoking?

  1. Invisibly Me says:

    Okay, so not to fly in the face of everything you’ve written here, but just my humble opinion, for what it’s worth. I’m a smoker, and I honestly do not think it impacts and heightens my pain. If anything, I’ve got a good pain threshold and have had to have a good threshold for living with chronic pain. I don’t smoke to manage pain (cigarettes – I’ve no idea what smoking anything else is like as I’ve never tried), but I suppose it’s a distraction. I’m attempting to be self employed, earning not enough to cover the groceries but I’m working my bum off with writing and online surveys and such. What gets me through the day are the small breaks, like a cigarette and getting a refill for my water bottle. It’s part of a routine, a way to break up the day, keep me going, that dangling carrot as a means of continuing. I guess the reasons for smoking and what you get out of it change over time depending on your situation, but that’s how it is for me now, at least. xx

    • Alice says:

      Thank you for your honest comment, Caz. I was intrigued to see what response this post had. I’m not a smoker so have no idea how smoking affects pain – and everyone is different. If it suits you and keeps you going then that’s all you can do ? as long as it doesn’t make your pain worse; thankfully it sounds like it doesn’t xx

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