Smoking May Exacerbate
Muscle, Joint Pain
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - On top
of its other ill effects, smoking may also be a literal pain in
the neck--and back, knees and other joints, researchers report.
A survey of nearly 13,000 Britons
found that smokers complain more often of discomforting or disabling
musculoskeletal pain than never-smokers.
The association was found "even
in ex-smokers," suggesting that smoking may cause long-term damage
to muscle tissues or changes in the neurological pain response,
according to researchers led by Dr. K. T. Palmer of Southampton
General Hospital in Southampton, UK.
Writing in the January issue of
Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, the UK team notes that previous
studies have suggested links between smoking and pain, especially
chronic back pain. However, most of these studies did not factor
out lifestyle factors, such as on-the-job manual labor, as a possible
In their study, Palmer's team had
12,907 adults fill out detailed questionnaires that covered topics
such as smoking history, work activities and levels of sporadic
or chronic musculoskeletal pain.
They found that, compared with
those who had never smoked, current smokers had about a 50% higher
incidence of reporting "pain in the past year preventing activity,"
meaning pain so severe it precluded the individual from going
to work or performing housework or hobby activities. Pain at all
sites--lower back, shoulders, elbows, hands, neck and knees--was
higher in smokers than never-smokers. What's more, this association
held even among respondents who had white-collar or other jobs
that did not require heavy lifting or moving.
Why might smoking raise pain levels?
Studies have suggested numerous explanations. First, nicotine
is a powerful stimulant that "could affect the manner in which
the brain processes sensory stimuli and the central perception
of pain," the researchers say--effectively cranking up the smoker's
Secondly, "tobacco smoking might
cause general damage to musculoskeletal tissues" by reducing blood
supply to these tissues, raising clotting risks, or reducing the
flow of nutrients to muscles and joints.
On the other hand, those who choose
to take up smoking might be psychologically predisposed to simply
feel and report pain at lower thresholds than non-smokers, the
researchers say. They point to previous studies that suggest that
smokers react more quickly to painful stimuli than nonsmokers.
Whatever the reason, the fact that
even ex-smokers reported discomfort more frequently than never-smokers
leads researchers to conclude that the pain-related effects of
smoking can last for years, due to "tissue damage or a prolonged
resetting of the threshold for pain."
SOURCE: Annals of Rheumatic Diseases;
Reference Source 89