The health risks of smoking are widely known by now. Literature is prevalent when it comes to the effects on your heart, lungs, and oral health, anyway. But smoking might cause damage to your body that you don't even know about. For example, it seriously interferes with the mending of bones and connective tissues. If you're a smoker and you are healing from surgery or plan to have an orthopedic surgery done soon, consider this information an extra incentive for setting those cigarettes aside. Better yet, put them down for good.
You can't spell it out any more starkly than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States." The CDC breaks down how it weakens overall health, increases work absenteeism, and increases health care costs. It's also a key cause of a wide range of illnesses: coronary heart disease, stroke, emphysema, lung cancer, and diabetes, to name just a few.
Because the body is a complicated biological system, many of these health problems exacerbate one another. They also play a role in bone health.
Smoking's Effects on Orthopedic Healing
Smoking negatively affects your body's restorative capabilities in a number of ways. To understand the overall orthopedic health risks of smoking, think of your body as a system. To heal properly, that system relies on your organs and body processes to work at their full capacity, and smoking damages practically every organ and wreaks havoc throughout.
Study data from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons showed a well-established link between smoking and orthopedic issues, asserting that "smoking is associated with increased nonunion rates, longer healing times, and higher rates of wound complications in long-bone fractures."
It's vital that new cells growing in bones and connective tissues are adequately nourished. The heart and lungs and responsible for said nourishment, and smoking directly damages both organs and replaces healing nutrients (oxygen being foremost among them) in the blood with carbon dioxide and a host of harmful chemicals. The efficiency of returning red blood cells also weakens, and they are not able to carry away cellular waste and inflammatory agents from a healing area.
Smoking also contributes to diseases that block adequate blood flow to the extremities, especially the legs. This means lower limbs struggle to heal. Compound this lack of blood flow with nutrient-deficient cells, and the problem magnifies greatly. Bones and connective tissue in the extremities weaken and become subject to fractures and sprains. Even worse, smoking impedes healing in already fractured bones and puts you at greater risk of infection to surgical sites. Incisions become very slow to heal, especially if you are diabetic.
What can you do to avoid these orthopedic health problems related to smoking? The answer should be staring you in the face by now: quit. While maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, drinking plenty of water, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and staying active are all imperative to your overall health, quitting smoking is a major first step. If you're addicted, quitting won't be easy, but think of your bones and joints as another reason to break the habit.