A study by Bogdan Petre of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has found that people who smoke are much more likely to suffer with chronic back pain than non smokers. This adds to the already huge list of reasons

to quit smoking.

It has been shown before that there is a link between smoking and back pain. However for the first time it has been shown why this is the case. The study shows 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 complaints worldwide. It is one of the commonest reasons for doctors visits and the most common reason for work days missed.

The researchers studied 160 patients with subacute back pain, defined as lasting between 4-12 weeks, 32 patients with chronic back pain lasting more than 5 years and also 35 patients with no back pain. Over a one year period these patients had to fill in a questionnaire about back pain and also underwent MRI brain scanning. In particular with the brain scans, the researchers concentrated on two areas, the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, that both play a role in motivates learning and addictive behaviour.

The researchers found that there seems to be a stronger connection between these two areas of the brain in smokers, compared to non smokers. This increased their risk of suffering with chronic back pain three fold. In the patients who quit smoking during the study, the activity in this circuit dropped significantly and their susceptibility to back pain decreased

In smokers who used medication to control the symptoms, the medication did not alter the activity of this brain circuit. They therefore concluded that smokers with back pain would benefit from quitting as this would likely reduce their symptoms. They have also suggested that there could be a link between addiction and chronic pain.

Every day a new reason to quit. For help in quitting please contact your doctor.