Study: Smoking Worsens SCI Pain

A new study from Purdue University determined that smoking worsens pain for people with spinal cord injuries (SCI).

In a June 14 news announcement, researchers suspect that a toxin called acrolein is to blame. Acrolein is found in cigarette smoke and activates pain sensors within nerve fibers. The Purdue study showed that rats with SCI experienced greater pain after breathing in cigarette smoke.

smoking cigarette 

Riyi Shi, professor of neuroscience and biomedical engineering at Purdue’s Department of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, said of the study, “Findings support anecdotal information suggesting that smoking increases pain in patients with spinal cord injuries. This neuropathic pain could be felt in the leg and upper extremities, or in any part of the body.”

The animals in the study experienced pain reduction when they were treated with phenelzine, an anti-depressant that’s a known “acrolein scavenger.”

Purdue noted that the human body naturally produces acrolein in response to spinal cord injuries, which increases patients’ pain. The results of the Purdue study could help healthcare professionals to more effectively treat acrolein-related pain in SCI patients, whether that’s caused by the patients themselves smoking, or by second-hand smoke.

But Shi added that acrolein administered alone was seen to cause less pain than cigarette smoke did as a whole, suggesting that other factors within cigarette smoke could exacerbate feelings of pain.

The study will be published in the Aug. 15 edition of the Journal of Neurological Sciences.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

Mobility Management Podcast