- Smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain
- Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks
- Quitting smoking can lower the risk of developing chronic pain
- Study looked at the connection between two areas of the brain
- These were areas responsible for motivated learning and addiction
- The areas ‘talk’ to each other and the connection is stronger in smokers
- May be a more general link between addiction and pain, experts said
To avoid back pain, give up smoking, according to new research.
A new study has found that smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than non-smokers. Dropping the habit may cut the chances of developing the condition, experts found.
This is the first evidence to link smoking and chronic pain – pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks – with the part of the brain associated with addiction and reward.
Lead author Bogdan Petre, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said: ‘Smoking affects the brain. We found that it affects the way the brain responds to back pain and seems to make individuals less resilient to an episode of pain.’
The results come from a study of 160 adults with new cases of back pain. At five different times throughout the course of a year they were given MRI brain scans and were asked to rate the intensity of their back pain and fill out a questionnaire which asked about smoking status and other health issues. Another 35 healthy control participants and 32 participants with chronic back pain were also monitored.
Through looking at the MRI scans scientists analysed activity between two areas of the brain – the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex, NAc-mPFC – which are involved in addictive behaviour, and motivated learning. These two regions of the brain ‘talk’ to one another and scientists discovered that the strength of that connection, or circuit, helps determine who will suffer from chronic pain. This connection was very strong and active in the brains of smokers.