Smoking may leave a legacy of increased pain, even after quitting


  • Heather Mason
  • Univadis Medical News
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Research indicates that ex- and current smokers report increased levels of bodily pain compared with never smokers. This could be secondary to smoking-related disease, a neurological or vascular effect of a period of regular smoking, or psychological characteristics of smokers.

Survey data from 223,537 UK respondents were collected between 2009 and 2013. Self-reported levels of bodily pain during the previous four weeks were assessed using two items from the validated Short Form-36. Participants were assigned to one of three groups; never smoked daily, used to smoke daily, or currently smoke daily. Factors that may have biased the results, such as self-rated physical health, personality, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and alcohol consumption, were taken into account.

Results revealed that both current and former smokers reported higher levels of pain than never daily smokers, for all ages. In a sensitivity analysis, with bodily pain dichotomised into ‘no pain’ and ‘some pain’, former daily smokers had increased and daily smokers had reduced odds of reporting some pain, compared with never daily smokers. This is consistent with previous research.

It cannot be ruled out that there is some other difference between former smokers and never smokers. However, the possibility that a period of daily smoking at any time results in increased pain levels even after people have stopped smoking, should be considered.

Younger smokers (16-34) reported higher levels of pain than those 35 years and older. A potential explanation for the finding that is that younger smokers have not yet developed smoking-related disease or general ill-health and hence, any smoking-attributable effects on bodily pain are easier to detect.

Pain may be due to the negative effects of smoking on the body’s hormonal feedback loops or undiagnosed damage to body tissues.

This study supports previous findings that smoking can contribute to increased levels of pain.