Living with chronic pain day to day can be extremely stressful. Aside from the physical pain and the physical limitations associated with chronic pain, people are often affected financially, emotionally and mentally by their chronic pain. This can in turn, have an impact on family life, relationships and the work environment. It is no wonder why living with chronic pain can weigh so heavily on us.

Different people deal with stress in different ways. Some use creative outlets such as art or writing to handle their stress. Others turn to themselves when faced with stressful situations either through meditation, positive self- talk, or even physical exercise.

Cigarettes are one of the more harmful ways in which people manage their stress. Some have claimed that smoking cigarettes calms their nerves. Others have said that it helps to lessen their pain. Studies have shown that cigarettes do not relieve stress or pain long term, and that cigarettes carry a wide range of chemicals that have been shown to cause a great deal of harm to the human body.

If you are living with chronic pain, smoking cigarettes can actually work against you, making the pain sensation more intense, and advancing any damage to the body’s tissue.

The nicotine in the cigarettes can trick your body. Initially, the nicotine prompts the body to release “feel-good” chemicals, which can give the illusion of a decrease in stress. There is also a theory that it is not the cigarette itself that combats stress. Rather it is the time you take away from the stressful situation to smoke that decreases the stress level. Whichever the real cause for the brief decrease in stress, this decrease will be short lived and very momentary.

Some believe that smoking cigarettes can actually work to decrease their pain. It is thought that the nicotine is responsible for a brief de-sensitization to the pain. Once this effect of nicotine wears off, the pain is actually made worse by a decrease in oxygen to the body. This can lead to habitual smoking for those living with chronic pain.

A physician out of the Cleveland Clinics Department of Pain Management has brought to light the fact that cigarette smokers are three times more likely to suffer from mid to lower back pain than their non-smoking counterpart. Smoking has also been shown to actually increase the body’s sensitivity to pain stimulus. Cigarette smoking can also aggravate abdominal pains, menstrual pains, and pain associated with the joints in the body.

Cigarettes aggravate chronic pain because of the chemicals that make up a cigarette. Smoking cigarettes impairs the body’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood to the tissues of the body. This decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients to tissue and bones in the body. The body thrives on oxygen, and when the tissue is not getting a sufficient amount of oxygen and nutrients, the tissue can become degenerated, particularly in the discs of the spine. The discs of the spine naturally receive less blood flow and oxygen, which is why once they are injured, healing and repair are more difficult than it would be for other parts of the body to repair themselves. When we further limit the blood and oxygen supply to the discs in the spine, pain can be the direct result.

Cigarette smoking also limits the blood, oxygen and nutrient supply to other tissue in the body, making healing much more difficult following an injury. This lack of oxygen to the tissue of the body can be responsible for longer healing times following an acute or sudden injury, and can cause chronic pain symptoms to worsen. A lack of oxygen to the tissue can also interfere with the bodies ability to regulate inflammation, which is a known cause of chronic ongoing pain.

A number of physicians have seen a correlation between smoking and worsening of fibromyalgia and arthritis. Further research is being done to deduce exactly how smoking affects these conditions.

Most people know the health risks associated with smoking. People understand the link between smoking and cancer or cigarette smoking and emphysema. But not many people realize the affect smoking has on chronic pain.

Smokers who suffer with chronic pain may not be suitable for certain types of pain treatments because of the delayed healing and oxygen limitation to the body tissue. Many surgeons advise against smoking when having a procedure done because of the effects smoking has to the healing process. Smoking can also impair the immune system, making the risk for infections greater post-surgery. This can affect a pain patient who may otherwise have benefited from treatments such as implantable devices geared towards pain control.

There are many programs and support groups to help in your journey to give up smoking. Talk with you primary health physician for help and guidance if you would like to quit smoking. Our bodies are wonderful machines when we pay attention and listen to them.