Smokers Have More Aches and Pains

Complain More About Muscle and Joint Pain

Jan. 8, 2003 -- As if lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema weren't enough, researchers now say smoking may be to blame for some common aches and pains, too. A new study shows smokers are more likely to complain about pain in their back, neck, arms, and legs than non-smokers.

The report, published in the January issue of the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, shows smokers as well as ex-smokers are at higher risk for aches and pains -- especially those that lead to chronic disabilities and interfere with daily activities.

Researchers surveyed nearly 13,000 adults across Great Britain and asked them about whether they suffered pain in the low back, neck, upper and lower limbs in the last 12 months. They also asked questions about their smoking habits, physical activities at work, headaches, tiredness, and stress.

They found the percentage of people who reported pain in the past year was consistently higher among smokers and ex-smokers for all the parts of the body examined by the study.

Smokers and ex-smokers were at especially high risk for pain that prevented them from performing daily tasks.

Researcher K. T. Palmer, MD, of the Southampton General Hospital, and colleagues say some of their findings may be muddled by the fact that current and ex-smokers were more likely to have a physically demanding job. This group also reported feelings of frequent tiredness, stress, and headaches, which could indicate a lower overall threshold for pain.

But researchers say the pattern persisted even when they adjusted for these factors and when they looked at pain reported among only white-collar workers.

Even so, they say it's unclear whether tobacco affects the body's pain sensors, or whether people with a low tolerance for reporting pain and disability are more likely to take up and keep smoking.

"If taking up smoking increases pain susceptibility, then this provides another reason to avoid the habit," according to the researchers, "but if the type of people who smoke report pain more readily, a search should next be made for the underlying mechanisms...."

SOURCE: Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, January 2003.