Why You Should Quit Smoking Before Orthopedic Surgery

  • Improved Surgical Outcomes: Quitting smoking before orthopedic surgery reduces the risk of complications, enhances healing, and improves recovery times.
  • Decreased Risk of Infection: Smokers are six times more likely to develop surgical infections due to impaired blood circulation and weakened immune response.
  • Reduced Musculoskeletal Issues: Smoking increases joint pain, inflammation, and susceptibility to bone injuries, making quitting crucial for better postoperative results and overall musculoskeletal health.

There’s no other way to say it: Smoking is bad for your health. Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and can damage almost every organ in your body. But did you know that smoking can also impact how your surgeries go?

If you’re a smoker, there’s no doubt you should quit. But where do you get started? Education is key.

Why It’s Hard to Quit Smoking

Studies show that the majority of people who smoke want to quit. Nearly three quarters of all smokers have tried to quit at least once. Smoking cessation, or the act of quitting smoking, is sometimes easier said than done.

It’s hard to stop smoking because tobacco contains a chemical called nicotine that is highly addictive. Essentially, nicotine makes your brain release more chemicals that make you feel good. As you continue using tobacco products, your brain starts to crave nicotine. That feeling is called addiction.

You may be asking, if it makes me feel good, why stop? There are two main answers to that question:

  1. Smoking is harmful. The act of smoking damages the actual cells in your body, causing them to operate at less than 100%. This is what causes cancer in the body. In addition to cancer, though, smoking makes you inhale more carbon dioxide. That increased carbon dioxide raises your risk of heart attacks and heart disease. 
  2. Nicotine itself is harmful. Nicotine doesn’t just interact with your brain, it causes other reactions in your body. It can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and potentially narrow the walls of your arteries. All of those reactions also contribute to a higher risk of heart attacks and heart disease.

In short, smoking tobacco products increases your risk of cancer, heart problems and more — not just because of the smoking itself, but also because of the nicotine and other chemicals cigarettes contain. 

People often start smoking socially. Your friends, parents or coworkers do it, so you do too. Others might start for the stress relief the initial hit of nicotine makes you feel. Regardless of how you start smoking, you probably keep smoking in part because of the routine. Humans are habit- and routine-oriented. Cigarettes can become as much a habit as eating breakfast or checking your emails at the same time every day. It becomes a comfortable and comforting action. 

Many people are also afraid of the physical discomfort of withdrawal. Withdrawal is the name for the physical symptoms you feel when you stop giving your body something you’re addicted to. These symptoms can include irritability, dizziness, tiredness and many other unpleasant feelings. Going through withdrawal is one of the biggest hurdles to successfully quitting smoking and tobacco use.

As you approach orthopedic surgery, your doctor may advise you to quit smoking before surgery. While this is probably in part for your overall health, it also probably because of how smoking can impact your surgical outcomes. 

How Smoking Affects Surgery

“Surgical outcomes” is the way doctors talk about the results of your surgery. Your surgical outcome can be measured in several ways, such as:

  • If the goal of the surgery was achieved
  • Whether or not there are complications during, or after, surgery
  • If you need to be readmitted for additional treatment 
  • How long it takes you to recover 

Smoking complicates all of those factors and more. Smoking reduces blood circulation in your body, which can in turn reduce your ability to heal. It also negatively affects your immune response to infections, which is your body’s ability to fight off germs and bacteria. In fact, smokers are six times more at risk for surgical infection than non-smokers. Across various types of surgery, smokers typically take longer to recover and have a higher risk of complications during or after surgery.

Specific to orthopedic treatment, smoking is known to increase musculoskeletal (MSK) and joint pain and make you more prone to bone injuries such as fractures. It can also increase inflammation in your body, which contributes to joint pain. It can even negatively affect your ligaments and tendons, which are the muscles that hold your body together and enable you to move freely. 

Your orthopedic surgeon’s goal is always to help you reach optimal outcomes, or more simply, the best outcomes possible for your unique situation. For habitual smokers, quitting is one way you can actually help control your outcomes and drive better results. Quitting smoking can help give you your best shot at a more pain-free life after surgery. 

When to Quit Smoking Before Orthopedic Surgery 

Whether you’re a lifelong smoker or a more recent one, it’s never too late to start prioritizing your health. Don’t wait until after surgery to start! Quitting smoking ahead of surgery, including planned orthopedic surgery, can dramatically improve your surgical experience and overall health; one clinical study that compared the outcomes of habitual smokers versus patients who quit 4-6 weeks ahead of surgery found that those who quit had much lower rates wound infection and a better ability to heal post-surgery. 

As part of our virtual lifestyle health program, Prescribe FIT works with patients who are scheduled for orthopedic surgery to reach lifestyle health goals (including smoking cessation) that can help improve their surgical and recovery experience.

We recommend quitting smoking as soon as you know you need orthopedic surgery. That will help your body begin to recover from the effects of smoking and help you walk into surgery primed for better outcomes. Plus, we know that quitting is hard. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t be recovering from major surgery while also navigating the beginnings of your smoke-free life.

We also recommend that you don’t go through it alone. 

A Smoking Cessation Support Network

Our Prescribe FIT health coaching program exists because numerous studies show that improving lifestyle health before surgery gives you better results in the long run. But we also exist because changing habits, whether it’s smoking, nutrition, exercise or anything else, is challenging. Our dedicated Health Coaches can be the support network you need to quit for good. We can walk you through the steps of quitting, help you manage potential withdrawal symptoms and teach you strategies for changing your routine so you no longer need to rely on daily smoking. And the best part is, we’ll always only be a text or call away.

There’s no time like the present to stop smoking — especially if you have an orthopedic surgery scheduled in the future. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you quit smoking ahead of orthopedic surgery.

Published on February 4, 2024