March 13, 2019

Does smoking slow down the healing process after surgery?

Health Tips


According to CDC, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death and smokers often die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Smoking also affects your body’s ability to recover after a surgical procedure.

In fact, quitting before your procedure and not smoking afterward can significantly increase your chances of healing faster. It allows more oxygen to reach your cells and increases blood flow which helps your body heal.

Dr. Kevin O’Neill, an OrthoIndy spine surgeon, knows just how big of an impact smoking can have on the recovery process.

”Many of the negative effects of smoking on patients undergoing surgery can be avoided by stopping smoking prior to surgery, staying away from cigarettes during the recovery period and ideally – quitting forever,” said Dr. O’Neill.

“Stopping well before surgery allows your body time to heal from the damage smoking causes, which can lower the risks of complications.”

Smoking effects after surgery

  • Increased chance of having complications such as heart attack, stroke, sepsis or shock, compared to non-smokers
  • Surgical wounds are less likely to heal properly and have a higher risk of infection
  • Bones will take longer to heal than a non-smoker
  • Weakens immune system

Smoking significantly slows down the healing process after surgery. Bones need nutrients in order to heal. Nicotine decreases the size of the blood vessels which results in fewer nutrients reaching the bone. Therefore, it takes longer for the bone to heal than a non-smoker.

It’s also important to be mindful to stop smoking if your child has surgery as it can affect their recovery process as well.

“The most obvious complication after surgery is related to lung function, such as an increased risk of pneumonia. But smoking also increases the risk of a poor outcome from the surgery itself,” said Dr. O’Neill.

“Smoking impairs the formation of small blood vessels and therefore impairs the ability to heal. This means that a patient is at higher risk of wound complication and infection. In orthopedic surgery, this means that the bones may not heal. Any of these complications may then require even further surgery.”

Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle

Is chewing tobacco bad for bone healing?

Chewing tobacco also contains nicotine which can decrease bone density and slow down the healing process of your bones. Tobacco is also linked to the increased risk of osteoporosis, muscle cramps and lower back pain.

“Those who use tobacco products simply don’t heal as quickly, and they are at increased risk of complications,” said Dr. O’Neill. “As surgeons, our primary goal is to give patient’s the best possible outcomes from surgery. Stopping smoking is one of the best things patients can do to help themselves have a great outcome.”  

Tips on how to stop smoking

  • Join a social group that supports your decision to quit
  • Surround yourself with loved ones that can motivate you to quit
  • Create a plan of how you plan to quit and reasons why you want to
  • Avoid triggers that make you want to smoke
  • Counseling or medications can help you wean off smoking before going cold turkey
  • Find other ways to relax your body so you are less likely to use smoking as a way to relax

Learn more healthy tips for living an active and nutritious lifestyle.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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