Pain and Smoking

Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Dec 11, 2009

Often people who suffer from pain will report that smoking helps them manage their pain.  This may weaken their motivation for stopping smoking.  A person may have acute pain (from an injury or temporary condition), or chronic pain (lasting for longer then 6 months, with no identified cause).  In either case people do report that smoking is a distraction from their pain.

However, research shows that smoking impairs healing, and often is a cause or major contributor to pain.  Our muscles, tissues, organs, and nerves require oxygen to heal and relieve pain.  Smoking delivers carbon monoxide which binds to the red blood cells more than oxygen, not to mention the 4000 other toxins in tobacco smoke.  People with circulation problems or conditions such as neuropathy (nerve pain in legs, feet, etc) benefit tremendously from stopping smoking, in part due to improved oxygen flow to these areas.

The Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center has found that patients who smoke report higher levels of pain when they enter treatment, take more pain medications, and many report increased smoking while on the medications.  Another study from the University of Miami Medical School found that smokers who completed treatment for low back pain, had more pain than non smokers and were less likely to return to work.  It seems that smoking is not the solution for pain.

There are other ways people can distract themselves without smoking.  Pain may limit a person’s behaviors, but finding things to do (walking, reading, time with loved ones, relaxed breathing, drinking water, taking a nap, etc) may help manage boredom and stress that can result from having pain.  Remember you are not alone, and stopping smoking is a process that is possible. To share your quitting process with others who are going through the same smoke-free journey, continue to provide support on the EX community. If you aren't a member, register today on BecomeAnEX.org.


Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated over 33,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org