Kicking the Habit for Orthopaedic Surgery Success

Elderly woman is in a doctor's office being encouraged by her doctor to quit tobacco use. - Dr. Herrick Siegel
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If you need orthopaedic surgery, using tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco can greatly increase your risk of complications during and after surgery. Quitting well before your procedure date is highly recommended to support proper healing. Keep reading to learn why tobacco use is so problematic for orthopaedic surgery outcomes, the benefits of quitting, and how to stop using tobacco with your doctor’s help.

How Tobacco Hinders Orthopaedic Surgery Healing

Tobacco use impacts the body in many ways that interfere with optimal healing after orthopaedic surgery:

  • The nicotine in tobacco restricts blood flow to bones, muscles, and tissues. Surgical sites need good blood flow to get oxygen and nutrients that help them heal.
  • Smoking reduces the oxygen that blood can carry throughout the body. Bones and tissues need extra oxygen to heal after the trauma of surgery.
  • Tobacco can weaken the immune system and bone cell function, making it harder to heal and fight infection after surgery.
  • Chemicals in tobacco increase clotting factors, raising risks of dangerous clots after surgery.

Research shows tobacco users have higher rates of complications with orthopaedic surgeries like:

  • Joint replacement – Higher infection risks, repeat surgeries, death
  • Spine surgery – Failed fusions, less pain relief, lower return-to-work rates
  • Rotator cuff repair – More pain and disability, less function
  • Fracture repair – Delayed healing and higher nonunion rates

The more you smoke, the higher your complication risks. Even smoking just a few cigarettes a day can impact surgical healing.

Benefits of Quitting Tobacco Before Surgery

Studies consistently show that quitting tobacco before orthopaedic surgery significantly lowers risks of complications. Just some of the benefits include:

  • Cutting infection risks for joint replacement nearly in half
  • Reducing poor wound healing and nonunions after fractures
  • Improving spinal fusion success rates from 62% to 81%
  • Lowering pain levels and disability after rotator cuff repair

The sooner you stop smoking before surgery, the better your results will likely be. But even quitting a few weeks prior still lowers risks versus those who smoke right up until their surgery date. Overall, patients who never used tobacco have the lowest complication rates.

Quitting Tobacco Through Cessation Programs

Because tobacco cessation can drastically improve surgical outcomes, many orthopaedic surgeons advise:

  • Stop all tobacco use at least 4 weeks before surgery if possible
  • Ask your doctor for help quitting through counseling, nicotine replacement products, and prescription medications
  • Join a tobacco cessation program for optimal support and success quitting

Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription drugs help ease cravings and nearly double quit success rates. Your doctor can recommend options tailored for you.

Some surgeons may require tobacco cessation before scheduling certain elective orthopaedic operations. While quitting is strongly advised, discuss any concerns with your surgeon if you’ve struggled to stop using tobacco before your scheduled surgery. With their help getting cessation resources, many tobacco users are still able to successfully quit in the weeks leading up to their orthopaedic procedure.

Staying Tobacco-Free After Surgery

It’s absolutely vital to remain tobacco-free while recovering from orthopaedic surgery. Using tobacco restricts blood flow and oxygen when your surgical site needs it most to keep healing properly.

Studies show orthopaedic patients who smoke after surgery face higher risks of complications like:

  • Failed bone healing and nonunion
  • Surgical site infections
  • Repeated herniation of spine discs after surgery
  • More disability and poorer function after ligament/rotator cuff repairs

For the best possible orthopaedic surgery results, remaining tobacco-free after your procedure is one of the most important things you can do. Ask your surgeon for continued support with quitting tobacco for good. Prescription medications, nicotine replacement products, and joining a cessation program can all help you stay tobacco-free throughout your recovery process.

The Bottom Line

Using any form of tobacco significantly raises risks of complications after orthopaedic surgery. Quitting tobacco before your scheduled procedure is highly recommended and will substantially improve your chances of smooth, successful healing. If you’re in need of orthopaedic surgery, reach out to Dr. Herrick J. Siegel at Siegel Orthopaedics in Birmingham, AL. He can guide you in joining a cessation program, getting prescription medications, and staying tobacco-free before and after your orthopaedic surgery. Going tobacco-free is one of the best things you can do to reduce surgical risks and help your body heal its best after orthopaedic procedures.