Why Quitting Smoking Is a Great New Year’s Resolution
This is the time of year when lots of people are making (and breaking) their New Year’s resolutions. One of the top New Year’s resolutions is quitting smoking. Besides cancer and cardiovascular disease, smoking is also a risk factor for chronic pain, for several reasons, so it makes sense to quit smoking as part of your plan for pain management.
First, nicotine use changes the way the brain perceives pain, causing increased pain intensity. Nicotine withdrawal increases perception of pain even more, and withdrawal can start as soon as 30 minutes after a cigarette. The increased pain perception can last for several weeks after quitting. Nicotine also diminishes the body’s ability to adjust and cope with physical stress, which adds to pain perception. Several studies have found that smokers have a higher lifetime risk of chronic pain, and report more intense pain, than non-smokers.
Second, smoking causes physical changes. Disks in the spine and cartilage in the joints deteriorate faster in smokers, increasing the chance of herniated disks and arthritis. Smoking slows healing, which causes increased scar tissue, which can be painful. Injuries to bones, ligaments and tendons take up to twice as long to heal in smokers compared to non-smokers, and smoking decreases bone mineral content, so smokers are more likely to get fractures. Smoking makes muscles and nerves more irritable and “twitchy,” increasing painful spasms.
Statistically, smokers are twice as likely to have disabling back pain as non-smokers, and almost twice as likely to have chronic back pain. Non-smokers are more likely to respond to pain management therapies, and people who quit smoking during their care respond better than those who do not quit. In fact, smokers who do not quit are much less likely to have any benefit from pain management.
Third, smoking impairs the function of the immune system, so smokers are more prone to infections, and the infections you do get don’t clear up as quickly. Infections increase overall pain perception and inflammatory processes.
Fourth, smoking changes the way some medications, including pain medications, are cleared from the body. Some pain medications are cleared from the body more quickly in smokers – which is not a reason to increase pain medications, but is a good reason to quit smoking!
But smoking is an addiction, on a par with heroin, cocaine and alcohol. I don’t need to tell most of you that quitting smoking is really, really hard to do. In fact, the average number of times a person tries to quit smoking before it finally sticks is seven! With each of these tries, you can learn more about why you smoke, what is helpful, or not helpful, for you in quitting, and what you need to do to avoid restarting.
There are lots of ways to quit, and it may take several tries before you find the one that works for you. Some do better with gradually reducing, some have better success with “going cold turkey”. There are medications, nicotine replacement systems (patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler), and other treatments like hypnotism, acupuncture, and psychotherapy. Some do really well with electronic cigarettes, although these should be discontinued as soon as possible, because people who continue e-cigarettes are more likely to restart smoking. There are a number of programs that can help you quit, which you can find with a quick Internet search, or by talking to your health care provider. There are a number of tricks to quitting – one of my favorites is the person who put a pack of cigarettes in a plastic bag, which she then put in a bowl of water, which she then put in the freezer. If the craving got too bad, she would have to melt the ice to get the cigarettes, and by then the craving had passed, so she was able to put it back in the freezer! A good thing to remember is that cravings last for about 3 minutes.
It is important to not replace smoking with eating sugary or high carbohydrate/high fat foods. These foods trigger the same kind of addictive response as other addictive substances, and are responsible for most of the weight gain that people report when they quit smoking.
January 11, 1964, Dr. Luther Terry, US Surgeon General, released the first report linking smoking and illness, primarily lung cancer and heart disease.
- Fifty years later, smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death.
- Smoking kills 480,000 people a year, or 1,315 a day
- Opioid overdose -34,000 deaths a year
- Suicide – 44,193 deaths a year
- 9/11 – 2,977 deaths
At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain.