Want to Heal Faster? Quit Smoking

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Nobody ever plans to break bones.  But if you do find yourself in an emergency room, needing care for a fracture, you'll be in much better shape to heal if you're a non-smoker.

We hear all the time how harmful smoking is to our health.  It's highly addictive, linked to heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung diseases, and can increase your risk for cancer of the bladder, throat and mouth, kidneys, cervix and pancreas.  Now, there's something new to add to the list, something doctors have suspected for a long time.

"Nicotine use prevents fracture healing," said Dr. Gregory Thomas, an orthopaedic traumatologist at Geisinger CMC in Scranton.  He adds that bones heal much quicker in patients who are non-smokers.

"Normally it takes a fracture approximately 24 weeks to heal.  Studies show that nicotine use extends that by 6 weeks, so approximately 2 extra months of healing time for someone who uses tobacco products," Dr. Thomas noted.

He says if there's elective surgery in your future, quitting the habit even 6 to 8 weeks beforehand can greatly help your healing time.

That's where Tony Delonti comes in.

"Because of the way smoking constricts blood vessels in the body, it doesn't supply full blood flow to that area," explains Delonti, a program specialist at the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania.  He has long been involved in teaching smoking cessation programs.

Delonti says he's surprised at how little people know about what happens to your body when you smoke, and he's quick to point out it's not just cigarettes that are cause for concern, but nicotine in general.

"Bone, muschles, tendons, all need oxygen to heal.  Decreased oxygen means decreased healing, and therefore prolonged healing."

If you need help quitting nicotine, contact the American Lung Association.