Your Orthopaedic Surgeon Will Tell You That You Should DEFINITELY Smoke Cigarettes If...

...you want to wait extra loooong for your fracture to heal
...you want to have a higher risk of surgical complications, like infection or problems healing your wound
...you're okay with developing osteoporosis
...you want to be more likely to develop overuse injuries, like bursitis or tendonitis - and take longer to recover
...you want to have a detrimental effect on your athletic performance
...you want to have more pain after a surgery

Sound attractive? I would guess not for most.

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As an orthopaedic surgeon, I treat many acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions, including fractures, sprains, strains, tendon/ligament injuries and bursitis.  I often discuss with smokers the risks above - not to mention the risks of smoking that first come to mind...the damaging effects on the heart and lungs.  Many individuals are unfamiliar with the fact that smoking can even affect the health of the bones and joints.
 

 

The quick and dirty on why smoking affects musculoskeletal healing: 
  1. Your tissues need oxygen to heal.  The chemicals in cigarette smoke affect the way our body handles oxygen, because the carrier, Hemoglobin, becomes less efficient at carrying oxygen. Imagine your home has a crumbling brick wall, and you need new bricks, some mortar to be brought over from Home Depot in a truck. Smoking is like trying to bring these needed supplies to your home in a tiny SmartCar instead of a big flatbed truck. How would you ever get that wall repaired in a timely fashion?
  2. The tiny blood vessels that hold that oxygen become narrow. Now, not only are your bricks and mortar coming in a tiny SmartCar, it has to travel bumper-to-bumper in an alley, instead of on a 5-lane highway.
  3. Your body's infection-fighting "bodyguard" cells, neutrophils, cannot work at their full effectiveness in a smoker. So it's like that brick wall has a big gap in it, and now, your guard dog has gone deaf and is taking a lazy snooze while burglers make their way though. 

Common questions I am asked about smoking:

  • How long do I need to have quit before I have the same healing potential as a non-smoker?
    • If you quit smoking, your risk of complications start to go down right away. If you're planning on elective surgery, it's a good idea to have quit at least 6 weeks prior to surgery. Some research sources say it can be 3 months before you've lowered your risk to that of a non-smoker. 
 
  • What if I have been smoking up until my broken bone...and now I don't want to delay my healing?
    • Quitting tobacco right away will be better than continuing to smoke! 
 
  • Can I just cut down? 
    • The less nicotine you're exposed to, the better, but again, you're going to lower your risk of the conditions above if you quit completely. 
 
  • I never have luck quitting...how do I get help?
    • It's important to know you're not alone! There are many resources out there, including your primary care doctor. You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go to www.smokefree.gov to be linked up with a professional "quit coach" free of charge. 

If you haven't started, don't! But if you have, even if it's been decades, you CAN do this. Don't just think about quitting, take actionable steps to do so today. You heart, lungs, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, skin, and so on and so on will THANK YOU for it. 
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