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Smokers Experience More Chronic Back Pain Than Non-Smokers, Study Says

Smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to develop chronic back pain, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. This is the first time research has linked smoking and chronic back pain with the part of the brain associated with addiction and reward.

Lead researcher Bogdan Petre said the effects of smoking don't actually reach the back—the connection between smoking and back pain actually occurs in the brain. He and his team analyzed MRI activity between two areas in the brain—the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex—and found them to be critical in the development of chronic pain.

"If you're a smoker, you have higher activity in this particular brain circuit associated with addiction and motivated learning. If you quit smoking the activity in the circuit goes down," he said.

Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the U.S. at 30.2 percent, according to the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index.

Petre said smoking doesn't cause chronic back pain, but worsens it.

Back pain is among the most common medical problems, affecting eight of 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 

Petre said the study just adds to the long list of consequences of smoking.

"Smoking causes lung cancer, throat cancer and all of these other problems," he said.

"In addition to that it's also going to make you more likely to have chronic pain later in life, which is also a big deal. You don't want to have pain every day of your life. You don't want to be suffering day in and day out. It's a debilitating condition."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 14 million health conditions are attributable to smoking.

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