Background: Smoking is associated with low back pain, intervertebral disc disease, inferior patient outcomes following surgical interventions, and increased rates of postoperative complications. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of smoking and smoking cessation on pain and disability in patients with painful spinal disorders.
Methods: We examined a prospectively maintained database of records for 5333 patients with axial or radicular pain from a spinal disorder with regard to smoking history and the patient assessment of pain on four visual analog scales during the course of care. Confounding factors, including secondary gain, sex, age, and body mass index, were also examined. The mean duration of follow-up was eight months. Multivariate statistical analysis was performed with variables including smoking status, secondary gain status, sex, depression, and age as predictors of pain and disability.
Results: Compared with patients who had never smoked, patients who were current smokers reported significantly greater pain in all visual analog scale pain ratings (p < 0.001). The mean improvement in reported pain over the course of care was significantly different between nonsmokers and current smokers (p <0.001). Compared with patients who had continued to smoke, those who had quit smoking during the course of care reported significantly greater improvement in pain in visual analog scale pain ratings for worst (p = 0.013), current (p < 0.05), and average weekly pain (p = 0.024). The mean improvement in the visual analog scale pain ratings was clinically important in patients in all three groups of nonsmokers. As a group, those who had continued smoking during treatment had no clinically important improvement in reported pain.
Conclusions: Given a strong association between improved patient-reported pain and smoking cessation, this study supports the need for smoking cessation programs for patients with a painful spinal disorder.