Smoking and Musculoskeletal Health
Virtually everyone knows that smoking is harmful for human health. Study after study has shown that tobacco use is linked with cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, allergies, asthma, COPD, and a host of other health complications. Tobacco smoke damages every tissue system in the body, and the musculoskeletal system is not different.
How Smoking Affects the Bones and Muscles
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, smoking weakens the bones in a variety of ways. While every person is unique, and every side effect of chronic smoking may manifest in various ways for each individual, smoking has been linked to:
Higher incidence of osteoporosis in the elderly – Smoking weakens the bones, which is already a problem among the elderly. Older smokers are up to 40% more likely than nonsmokers to suffer a hip fracture in their lifetimes, says the AAOS. Injuries are also often more severe and take longer to heal than those of nonsmokers.
Stress injuries and fractures – Even in those who are younger, smoking increases the risk of stress injuries, such as tendonitis. Injuries related to sports and other physically demanding activities are also more likely to occur. This is combined with lowered cardiovascular function, leading to significantly reduced athletic function.
Slower healing times – Smokers tend to suffer from injuries that last a lot longer than nonsmokers. This is due to damage to the injured area itself, as well as a lowered immune response.
Smoking can cause damage to these areas in a variety of ways. For one, it reduces blood flow to the bones and muscles, much like it does in all other areas of the body. This prevents bones from repairing themselves when necessary, while also wearing them down much more quickly than in nonsmokers.
Studies also suggest that smoking can prevent bones from absorbing calcium, an important mineral that helps bones achieve their density. Smokers also process estrogen more quickly, which is another factor in the development of dense bones.
While the statistics are sobering, there are things one can do to reduce the risk of smoking-related musculoskeletal injuries.
Exercise – Maintaining a good exercise routine is important not only for increasing muscle tone, but also for skeletal health. Any exercise which puts stress on the bones will help strengthen them over time. Just don’t overdo it. Strength training with weights or another form of resistance is a good way to strengthen muscles.
Eat healthy – This is important for numerous other reasons as well. Eating a healthy, well-balanced whole foods diet will ensure that you get enough calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein – all important for the development of healthy bones and muscles.
Rest – Muscles need time to recuperate after a workout. This goes for bones as well. While exercise is important, it’s possible to overdo it. If you’ve had a particularly strenuous workout, aim to work different muscles the next day to give your body time to rest and heal.
Quit – The only true way to reduce the risk of smoking-related issues is to quit smoking. While this may seem like a challenge, there are plenty of viable smoking cessation tools available for those who want to quit, but need a little boost. These may include prescription medications, gum, patches, or other forms of NRTs.