Each year, more than 480,000 deaths occur in the United States due to a preventable cause – cigarette smoking (source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention). We know that smoking increases the chance for strokes, coronary heart disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and harms every organ in our bodies. Smoking also has a negative effect on bones and joints, which puts smokers at a disadvantage when it comes to having orthopedic surgery.
Stop smoking now!
The fact is orthopedic surgery is much more challenging with a patient who is a smoker. Here’s why:
The nicotine and other toxins inhaled by smokers causes blood vessels to become constricted which leads to a decreased blood flow throughout the body. When blood flow is decreased, bones become weaker and less dense, leading to a greater chance of fractures. In addition, after a fracture or surgery, bones are unable to heal as quickly for smokers than for non-smokers. Smokers also have a greater chance of wounds not healing and are more prone to post-surgery infection. Delayed healing has been reported in spine fusion surgery, hip and knee joint replacement surgery, foot surgery and hand surgery (source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons).
Researchers have noted that patients who quit smoking have improved outcomes for surgical treatments of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Health improvements begin immediately from the moment a smoker decides to quit. Within two hours of quitting, blood circulation will begin to improve. Three days after quitting smoking, nicotine is completely out of the body. While this will lead to symptoms of withdrawal, it also means the body will have the ability to build up bone density.
With its significant negative impact on healing, we council patients to undergo full nicotine cessation before undergoing a surgical procedure. Eliminating smoking, including cessation aids that include nicotine such as gums, patches and vaporizers, will not only improve the chance for positive post-surgical outcomes, it will improve overall health and vitality. If you smoke, there are many non-nicotine based resources available to help you break the habit. I recommend you start with the American Lung Association, www.lung.org. And, if you are a current smoker be sure to talk to your surgeon about your tobacco use so you understand what to expect before, during and after surgery.