You’ve done it. You’ve embarked on a journey towards wellness by stopping smoking. Congratulations!
While many quit-smoking aids can make the journey easier, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products and pharmacy-sold nicotine vaping products (NVPs), it’s important to remember your body is still adjusting to the absence of nicotine.
Nicotine is an addictive chemical that makes you want to light a stick. Depending on how long you’ve been smoking, you might feel mild to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Sometimes, these symptoms can manifest as physical pain – your muscles and joints feel weak and slightly painful when you move. This is a normal part of quitting smoking.
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By understanding and carefully managing the pain, you can continue functioning properly while maintaining your motivation to head towards better health and quality of life.
In this post, we’ll learn more about what causes muscle and joint pain after quitting smoking, some ways to find relief, and how to resist the urge to smoke despite the pain with the help of GPs.
Why Your Body Aches When Quitting Smoking
As humans grow older, the tissues in the muscles and joints gradually wear out faster due to slower natural healing mechanisms. Most non-smokers experience the same pain but develop a tolerance for it.
For motivated smokers on their quit journey, the body aches they feel when quitting smoking can be quite disabling – it sometimes feels like it’s hard to walk or stretch your shoulders better. These body aches are happening because of the following:
When you stop smoking, you might have asked yourself, “Why do my joints hurt so much?”
It’s most likely due to increased pain sensitivity after nicotine leaves the body.
Nicotine, the primary component that causes withdrawals during quitting, suppresses pain. The relatively harmless chemical that gives you a small burst of energy, affects your sense of taste and suppresses your hunger, also has an effect on your nerves, specifically the pain receptors in your body.
When you quit smoking, your body’s nervous systems start to improve, increasing sensitivity to the pain of natural muscle and joint damage non-smokers also experience as they age.
However, motivated smokers might feel more pain than their counterparts after quitting smoking – the harmful chemicals in cigarettes may have caused more damage to their bodies throughout their years of smoking.
So, if your joints feel somewhat weak and you feel pain in the knees or elbows, always remember your body’s pain threshold is still adjusting.
Increased Inflammation Due to Smoking
In each cigarette are thousands of dangerous chemicals (69 of which are known to be carcinogenic to humans).
Some of these chemicals cause blood pathways to constrict, limiting nourishment and nutrients to your muscles and joints during the time you’re still smoking.
The chemicals also affect your body’s inflammation response, causing it to go haywire and exacerbate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but not feel too painful due to nicotine’s pain suppression effect.
When you quit smoking, you feel much more pain due to the damage, inflammation and increased pain sensitivity, but it should only be very temporary.
Over time, the body’s inflammatory response and pain sensitivity will start to normalise. While it would take a few days or weeks, you would be able to walk properly and do your activities with minimal to no discomfort without any joint and muscle pain relief.
Fatigue and Tiredness
Feeling fatigued and easily tired is one of the most common side effects of quitting smoking among motivated smokers who have stopped for a few days or months.
Remember that your body is still adjusting to your independence from the chemicals and nicotine in cigarettes.
You’re also going through withdrawal symptoms, which take a great deal of mental and emotional willpower to get through.
If you’re feeling too weak to even reach for the remote or prepare dinner for the night after the strong withdrawal urges have passed, it’s okay – know that this is normal for most motivated smokers.
In just a few months, your body will start to relax and do well without smoking. You’ll start to breathe better, helping your body improve oxygenation that aids in repairing muscle and joint tissue through improved blood flow.
How to Relieve These Minor Side Effects of Quitting Smoking
It might feel better just to get back to smoking and alleviate the muscle and joint pain when the symptoms feel too much. But, there are better, more effective ways to find relief after experiencing physical discomfort.
Here are some of them.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen help in managing muscle and joint pain. These are readily available from local pharmacies and don’t require a prescription.
However, it bears mentioning that if you’re taking other medications, these two pain relievers can affect your existing intake. So, before buying pain medication, ask your pharmacist or consult with a healthcare provider about it.
While pain medication can be helpful with muscle and joint pain, it should not endanger your health.
It might sound counterintuitive to keep on moving when it’s painful enough to do so. However, stimulating painful legs, elbows, shoulders, and other areas of the body improves blood circulation and can help relieve muscle tension.
Being active also doesn’t mean going to the gym and hitting a new personal record in running or lifting – it simply means spending enough time walking in the neighbourhood or nearby park or doing some morning stretches.
Furthermore, physical exercise releases endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ chemical that makes it easier to form new habits and act as natural pain relievers – another effective solution to minimising withdrawal symptoms.
Balance Your Activities
As we’ve mentioned, you’re not going to a gym to lift the heaviest weights or run the longest miles – your physical activity should only be light enough to stimulate and not damage your aching muscles and joints.
Start with light exercises to alleviate the pain. When you feel better, you can start gradually pushing the intensity while being mindful of how it feels on the muscles and joints.
Balancing your physical activities is a far more sustainable alternative than risking injury from overexertion, worsening your muscle and joint pain later on.
Check Your Weight and Physical Wellness
Smoking has a negative impact on your muscle and joint growth and recovery, putting you at higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you were overweight when you were smoking, you may need to lose a few kilos to relieve physical pain.
Motivated smokers are at a high risk of overeating – an understandable situation because quitting makes food taste better than it used to. If you’re overweight, you might experience more muscle and joint pain once you start eating more again.
Fortunately, it’s easy to maintain or even reduce your weight after stopping smoking and dealing with a better appetite.
Prepare your meals at home or go for nutrient-rich, low-fat options available when eating out at work. Go for more vegetables, lean protein, and fibre in your diet.
With better nourishment, you can reduce the risks brought about by being overweight and aid the inflammation and recovery of your body.
What Happens When You Stop Smoking?
It’s understandable that motivated smokers feel overwhelmed by weaker muscles and their aching back and joints after quitting smoking while dealing with their withdrawal symptoms.
But, once they overcome these temporary side effects, they’re on their way to having a better lifestyle, physique, and mental health.
Within a few hours after you’ve stopped smoking, you’re breathing better, and the body has started improving your blood flow and conducting repairs on various parts of the body.
Within six days, your body has started producing more antioxidants that combat dangerous free radicals associated with accelerated muscle breakdown and joint pain.
In just a few months, your skin drastically improves along with your energy levels. You can even walk or jog better now without the muscle and joint pains.
After a year of stopping smoking, you feel like a new person capable of great focus and better performance in everything you aim to do.
All it takes is to just overcome these initial hurdles of painful joints and muscles combined with irritability and mood swings brought on by withdrawals.
We promise that after going through all of these, you’ll start feeling and seeing the best person you can be.
It pays to remember that the muscle and joint pain after quitting smoking is just a one-time segment of the wellness you’ll feel after you’ve left behind cigarettes for good. Now that you understand its causes and how to deal with it, you’re well on your way towards living a healthier, more active, and happy lifestyle.
We know you’re reading this because you’re unsure why you feel physically weak and pained after quitting smoking. We can help.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to bulk-billing Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.
Click here to book your bulk-billed telehealth consultation with an Australian healthcare professional and quit smoking today.