Smokers Have Worse Recovery After Work Injury

Lighting up a cigarette may make smokers feel more relaxed when they're coping with work injuries, but new research suggests that could actually make matters worse. The findings suggest that smoking , combined with worker compensation and litigation, significantly inhibits recovery from spinal disorders.

Earlier studies have demonstrated that smoking can increase your risk of back pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. Researchers from the University of Florida sought to determine the combined effects of smoking and worker compensation/litigation on recovery from spinal conditions. They analyzed the medical records of 13,704 patients with spinal disorders treated at two university spine centers between 2000-2008.

Nearly a quarter of patients were current smokers, 30% were former smokers, and 46% had never smoked. A total 5.7% of patients were involved in worker's compensation claims, and another 6.1% were involved in litigation.

The researchers found that smoking produced significant differences in disability and pain. Current smokers had the highest ODI disability score (44.33), followed by former smokers ( 38.11), and nonsmokers ( 36.02). On average, smokers had a pain score of 6.7 out of 10, compared to previous smokers (6) and nonsmokers (5.9).

Patients involved in worker's compensation or litigation also had significantly more disability and pain. But patients with the poorest outcomes were current smokers involved in worker's compensation and litigation.

It's possible that those with more serious injuries were more likely to seek compensation through worker's compensation or litigation. People involved in seeking compensation also tend to have poorer self-reported health and other psychosocial factors that could negatively impact recovery. These factors, combined with smoking, could lead to poorer outcomes after work injury.

Fortunately, research suggest that current smokers with spinal pain can actually improve their recovery through smoking cessation.


Prasarn ML, et al. Negative effects of smoking, workers' compensation, and litigation on pain/disability scores for spine patients. Surgical Neurology International 2012; 3 (Suppl 5): S366-S369. doi: 10.4103/2152-7806.103870/