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Smoking Hinders Healing

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Smoking Hinders Healing

February 07, 2001

Cigarettes can damage more than your lungs

By Tom Keppeler, Knee1 Staff

A cigarette in your hand can damage more than the air sacs in your lungs and the muscle in your heart. In fact, according to a number of recent studies, smoking can lengthen the time it takes you to recover from an orthopedic injury, such as a torn ACL or a torn rotator cuff.

For starters, a recent article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) suggests that smokers are more prone to injury overall. Organizers of the study, which examined the injury rates of Army recruits in 8-week Basic Training courses, found that 40 percent of male smokers were injured during the training versus 26 percent of nonsmokers. Among women, the numbers were similar: 46 percent to 36. Among the most common injuries suffered by smokers in the study were overuse injuries, caused by wearing down certain joints and include sprains, strains, tendonitis, bursitis, and fractures.

The researchers filtered the results by age, gender, weight, and fitness level, and, every time, the results were similar: those who had at least one cigarette in the previous month were at a substantially higher risk for injury than non-smokers. Overall, the study concluded, smokers are roughly 50 percent more likely to be injured than non-smokers. The researchers from the USUHS added in their conclusion that "the detrimental effects of smoking on injuries appears to persist at least several weeks after cessation of smoking."

Smokers not only appear to be at a greater risk of injury, but their injuries appear to be more severe. According to a study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, rotator cuff tears are twice as large in smokers than in nonsmokers. Researchers suspect that the difference in size may be caused by cigarette smoke cutting off blood flow to deep tissues.

In addition, a study completed late last year concluded that smoking lengthens the amount of time that bones take to heal. According to separate studies conducted by Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University, Emory University, and the University of Texas, smoking constricts blood vessels, causing bones to be deprived of vital nutrients they need to heal. As a result, they heal slower. The Northwestern study tracked 54 patients who underwent surgical repair of their wrists. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that the average nonsmoker's wrist healed in five months, versus seven months in a smoker. In the University of Texas study, researchers found that broken legs healed 80 percent faster in nonsmokers than in smokers.

Quitting smoking now, researchers say, will greatly increase your odds for a quicker and less-complicated recovery. For more information on quitting smoking, click here.

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