top of page

Book a video consultation with our physios

How smoking or vaping can delay injury healing

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

People seem to view vaping as a safe alternative to smoking, but when it comes to injury recovery that may not be the case. In this article Maryke looks at why it is that smoking and vaping can stop your injuries from healing properly. Yes, vaping is relatively clean compared to regular cigarette smoke which can contain more than 4000 toxic compounds, but if your vaping solution contains nicotine, then it is still very bad for injury healing.

I have also discussed this in this video:

How nicotine interferes with injury healing

Getting a good supply of fresh blood to the injury site is extremely important as your cells require a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to multiply and be healthy. Nicotine reduces the blood flow to your tissue in 2 ways:

  1. It causes your blood vessels to contract and narrow (vasoconstriction) so that less blood can flow through it and

  2. it also makes your platelets in your blood stick together more, causing your blood to thicken and this makes it more difficult for the blood to move through the smaller blood vessels in your body.

So if you smoke or vape regularly in the day, your injured body part may be struggling to get enough oxygen and nutrients for large parts of the day which will interfere with its ability to heal.

Carbon monoxide & hydrogen cyanide

Tobacco smoke also contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. These two components have been shown to further reduce the oxygen that is available to cells. Carbon Monoxide binds much more easily to red blood cells than oxygen does which means that, instead of carrying oxygen to your injury the blood will carry carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide also reduces the number of white blood cells in your blood and these play an extremely important role during the first 3 to 5 days after you’ve sustained an injury. If you don’t have enough white blood cells, your body will struggle to get rid of the damaged tissue and, in the case of open wounds, it will also struggle to defend you against infections.

How tobacco smoke affects collagen turn-over

Collagen is one of the key building blocks of all the structures in the body. For instance, in bones the collagen provides the framework for the minerals to attach to while tendons are nearly totally (80%) made up of collagen. Every single structure of your body uses collagen in some way or form.

The researchers are not entirely sure which of the toxins in cigarette smoke are to blame, but smoking has a very detrimental effect on collagen production. This means, that if you choose to smoke while injured, you’re effectively dialling down your body’s ability to produce the key building block that it needs to heal.

You can consult an experienced sports physio online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan. Follow the link to learn more.

Smoking can cause degenerative disc disease

Compelling evidence exists that tobacco smoking can lead to the degeneration of the intervertebral discs in your spine. This is thought to be due to the combined effect of reducing the blood flow (and therefore nutrients and oxygen) to the discs and also reducing the production of new cells that are needed to keep the discs healthy.

Would it help if I reduced my smoking or stopped for a short period?

Very likely. It can take up to 3 days for all the carbon monoxide to leave your body, but the research is not clear on how long the other toxins may be hanging around for. Even a small reduction in the level may already help to increase the blood flow to your injury and allow your body to function better. I know that nicotine addiction is extremely hard to kick, but making the switch from cigarette smoke to nicotine only options (like vaping or gum) may already provide you with some benefit. There are so many different services and products out there these days that could be of help and speaking to your GP about it is usually a good first step.

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.



bottom of page