The Dangerous Habit That Triples Your Risk for Serious Back Pain

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If you are a smoker you are already well aware of the dangers that go along with it: cancer, tumors, liver damage, heart disease, stroke, etc. However, a new study shows a new and surprising health problem you would not normally associate with this deadly habit.

Northwestern University scientists looked at 160 subjects with what is called sub-acute back pain. This means that these patients had been dealing with some severe back pain for between 4 to 12 weeks. They also looked at 32 other subjects who had chronic back pain, which means these subjects had been dealing with constant back pain for a minimum of 5 years. Then they add 35 persons who had never had back pain.

All of the above subjects completed 5 surveys, all different, about their health during the following year. They had MRI scans of their brains as well. The purpose of this study was actually to look into the areas that regulate motivation, learning, and addictive behavior.

For those of us in other professions, we might not see the link between these areas, the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, but it is these areas that make some people more susceptible to chronic pain than others.

Smokers had the strongest connection of all. Somehow, smoking increased their risk of feeling chronic back pain, and not just by a small margin. Scientists found that smokers were three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than their non-smoking counterparts.

This isn’t the first study to link smoking to chronic pain, but this is the first study to show that smoking interferes with the circuits in the brain that area associated with feelings of pain.

If you have ever experienced back pain, even for a short length of time, you know just how terribly debilitating it can be!  In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor. Estimates say that 8 out of every 10 Americans will experience some type of back problem during their lifetime. Back pain is the number one reason people miss days at work and the second most common reason people visit their doctor!

This study was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

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