Broken bones take longer to heal for smokers

Doctors study whether quitting smoking after a fracture speeds the healing process.

Washington – Smokers broken bones take a lot longer to heal. But scientists now are studying whether giving up cigarettes for even a week or two after a fracture might make the difference between a speedy recovery and months of easy-to-reinjure mushy bones.

Theres a window predicts orthopedic specialist Michael Zuscik of the University of Rochester.

If he’s right, it could dramatically change orthopedic practice for the nation’s 48 million smokers.

Bone damage is arguably the least publicized of tobacco’s harms.

The first time many smokers ever hear of the problem is if they need spinal fusion, a back operation that surgeons often won’t perform unless patients kick the habit – with a urine test to prove they quit. That’s because the surgery is far more likely to fail in smokers than non-smokers.

Smokers who break a leg require 62% more time to heal.

Then there’s the silent toll smoking can wreak by contributing to bone-thinning osteoporosis.

Yet tobacco’s nicotine provokes a opwereful addiction; it can take repeated attempts to succeed in quitting. Those who do often use nicotine patches or gum to wean themselves.

Here’s the rub: Zuscik’s early research suggests nicotine may be a key bone-damaging culprit – and that it does its dirty work almost immediately by affecting stem cells stored in the bone marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells, that move in to begin healing an injured bone.

The most important steps that occur involving these mesenchymal stem cells happen during the first days and weeks of the healing process, Zuscik explains. “The whole thing is kind of derailed.”

Now, armed with a new $1.4 million grant from the Defence Department, Zuscik is out to prove that theory, and whether going cold-turkey for a short time after breaking a bone or undergoing bone surgery might help smokers heal faster.

It’s of interest to the military because surveys show up to 34% of troops smoke,compared with about 22% of the general population, and bone damage, particularly to the arms and legs, is common among soldiers injured in combat.

Whie the link between smoking and bone harm is clear, no one knows why it occurs, says Dr. Thomas Einhorn, chairman of orthopedic surgery at Boston University.

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