The effects of smoking on your heart and lungs are well known, but did you know that it can also cause degenerative changes within your joints? Quitting smoking may help preserve joint health and slow down degenerative joint disease. Here are some ways in which smoking negatively impacts joint health:
- Reduced Bone Nourishment: Bones receive nourishment from blood just like your organs and tissues. Your blood vessels supply the oxygen, water, proteins, and amino acids that your bones and joints need to stay healthy. Smoking causes your blood vessels to constrict so fewer nutrients get through to your bones.
- Weakened Joints: Calcium and other minerals strengthen your bones. Smoking reduces the absorption of calcium leading to weaker bones in smokers. Especially menopausal women and older people who smoke are likely to suffer fractures.
- Slower Bone Healing: Bone or joint injury healing is slowed down in smokers. Nonsmokers can usually heal in half the time when compared to smokers. No matter how severe your fracture or joint injury, if you are a non-smoker an orthopedic surgeon can get your bones and joints to heal very well. But smokers may have complications with the simplest of fractures.
- Worsening symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: Smoking is associated with increased levels of Rheumatoid Factor (RF) in the blood, which is one of the determining factors of rheumatoid arthritis, and patients who also smoke tend to report more severe joint pain, swelling, and stiffness if they have rheumatoid arthritis.
- Negative Affect on Back and Neck Pain: The discs between your spinal vertebrae have very little or no blood supply of their own. They rely almost exclusively on the bony endplates above and below for nourishment. When you smoke, the nicotine and other chemicals severely limit the amount of nutrients getting into the disc. This rapidly accelerates the degenerative changes in the disc making it difficult for the discs to repair themselves worsening neck and back pain.
When it comes to an elective orthopedic surgery such as hip or knee joint replacement, quitting smoking even for 2 weeks before the surgery and not smoking for the next 6 weeks after surgery dramatically reduces risk of complications and improves your potential to heal.
Dr. Yaser A. Metwally is board-certified by both the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery and the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada. He received his fellowship of Reconstructive Surgery from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and specializes in hip and knee replacement surgery.