The association between cigarette smoking and back pain in adults

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Jun 1;24(11):1090-8. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199906010-00008.


Study design: A retrospective cohort study of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. A comparison group of persons without scoliosis was also selected randomly from the general population.

Objectives: To estimate the association between level of cigarette smoking and the prevalence and severity of back pain.

Methods: A postal questionnaire was used to elicit information on smoking histories, a variety of indices of low back pain, and potential confounding factors. The association between smoking and back pain was estimated separately for men and women in the cohort and in the comparison group using ordinal regression models.

Results: The questionnaire was completed by 1287 women and 184 men who had adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and by 1130 women and 621 men in the comparison population who did not have scoliosis. Statistically significant associations between back pain and current cigarette smoking were found in the two groups of women and men with scoliosis, but not among men selected from the general population. In the three former groups, proportional odds ratios comparing current smokers to persons who never smoked ranged from 1.4 to 1.9. Among current smokers, the prevalence of back pain increased with cigarette consumption, and the proportional odds ratios ranged from 1.2 to 1.8 per 10 pack-years (no. of cigarettes smoked per day x no. of years/20). In these three groups, intensity, frequency, and duration of episodes of back pain also were found to increase with smoking consumption.

Conclusion: The finding that smokers have more frequent episodes of back pain may imply that smoking exacerbates back pain, and the observation that stronger associations between back pain and smoking were found in the scoliosis cohort suggests that smoking may have a greater impact on persons with damaged spines.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prevalence
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Scoliosis / complications
  • Scoliosis / epidemiology
  • Scoliosis / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires