Being advised to quit smoking before spinal surgery is a common recommendation, and there’s a certain logic behind this suggestion. First of all, some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke may affect anesthesia, and with fusion surgery there’s a higher chance of bone fractures and infection for smokers. There’s also compelling research suggesting kicking the smoking habit temporarily before surgery can make a big difference, but there’s equally strong evidence suggesting it may not be so wise to resume a smoking habit after spinal surgery. Here’s why.
Post-Surgery Infection Risk
One of the most serious risks associated with smoking after spine surgery is infection. The spine is in an already weakened state following surgery until it naturally heals and strengthens, which automatically makes it more susceptible to infection. This risk is even higher if you’re smoking. If an infection occurs, it could mean:
• Having to take more medication, which may include IV-delivered antibiotics
• A longer healing and recovery period
• Issues with the formation of a fusion
Nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide are among the more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. Some of these substances can impede the circulation of healthy, oxygenated blood to the surgery site. If circulation isn’t what it should be around healing tissues, you’re more likely to experience a delay in healing that could contribute to additional delays with:
• Becoming more mobile
• Returning to work
• Getting back to your favorite activities, especially anything strenuous like playing sports
Second Surgery Risks
Smoking may also decrease spinal disc height. Additionally, smoking is considered one of the leading contributing factors to degenerative disc disease. If your spine’s discs are weakened in other areas beyond the surgical site, you may develop new instability in a different location that requires a second surgical procedure in the future.
What Smokers Having Spine Surgery Can Do
Ideally, it’s best to try to stop smoking altogether when you know you’ll be having spine surgery. If you don’t think you’ll be able to refrain from smoking after your operation, take other steps to increase your odds of enjoying a successful outcome as you heal and recover, such as:
• Following post-op care instructions provided by your Beverly Hills spine surgeon
• Keeping the surgical site clean
• Eating green, leafy veggies and other foods that are rich in beneficial nutrients
• Participating in physical therapy
• Making an effort to remain active post-recovery since regular exercise and activity can increase circulation already affected by cigarette smoke
• Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
• Modifying activities until healing is complete to avoid overstressing your spine
Patients having spine surgery are sometimes under the assumption that all they have to do is quit smoking until their surgery is over. While it’s a good thing to use an upcoming surgery date as motivation to stop smoking, go further and make an effort to quit altogether to increase the odds of keeping your spine healthy post-operation. However, you don’t have to attempt to quit cold turkey. Your doctor should be able to suggest medications or recommend a smoking cessation treatment plan that minimizes cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Even if you’re not having fusion surgery, you should consider giving up smoking if you’re opting for a spinal fusion alternative. Beverly Hills patients who want to alleviate their chronic pain should reach out to The Spine Institute. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.