Heavy smoking linked to musculoskeletal pain in women

Published on 29 September 2011
CigarettesWomen who smoke heavily may be more likely to develop chronic musculoskeletal pain, new research suggests.

Scientists at the University of Kentucky analysed data on 6,092 women, aged 18 and over, who completed survey questions on their smoking habits and experiences of pain.

The researchers found that women who were current smokers or had previously smoked were more likely to have a chronic pain syndrome - such as fibromyalgia, sciatica, neck, back or joint pain - than those who had never smoked.

Daily smokers showed a 104 per cent increase in their risk of chronic pain, compared with people who had never smoked.

Occasional smokers had a 68 per cent increased risk and former smokers had a 20 per cent increased risk.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Pain, also concluded that daily smoking was more strongly associated with chronic pain than other factors, including old age, lower educational attainment or obesity.

Dr David Mannino, study co-author and pulmonary physician at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, said: "This study shows a strong relationship between heavy smoking and chronic pain in women.

"But what is the direction of this association? Does smoking cause more chronic pain, or do more women take up smoking as a coping mechanism for experiencing chronic pain?"

The scientist suggested that chronic pain may be more likely to develop from acute pain in smokers because exposure to chemicals in tobacco may harm their protective mechanisms.

However, further research is needed to shed light on the apparent link.

Dr Leslie Crofford, director of the Centre for the Advancement of Women's Health and another co-author of the study, added: "It's possible that patients experiencing chronic pain could benefit from smoking cessation treatment in addition to the treatment for their pain."

A spokesman for Arthritis Research UK said the findings were of great interest.

"We know that smoking is one of the risk factors for developing rheumatoid arthritis. And although the mechanisms for smoking contributing to people developing chronic pain are largely unknown, stopping smoking in these groups of people would clearly be beneficial," he said.