Want A Better Physical Therapy Outcome? Put Down Those Cigarettes!

If you're recovering from an injury or surgery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy during your recovery period. Physical therapy has a lot of benefits – it can help you heal faster and recover more fully than you might without the therapy. However, not everyone has the same outcome from physical therapy. Your overall health and certain lifestyle factors can affect how much success you have with physical therapy. This is especially true for smokers – your decision to smoke can have serious effects on your physical therapy outcome. Take a look at some of the ways smoking affects the healing process and hampers physical therapy.

Smoking Affects Wound Healing

When you have a wound that needs to heal, like a surgical incision, your blood cells do a lot of the work needed to help the wound heal. Your red blood cells carry needed oxygen to the wound site, which your body uses to help repair the wounded tissue. However, smoking inhibits the hemoglobin in your blood cells from being able to carry as much oxygen as it normally would, which means that less oxygen gets to the wound.

As a matter of fact, cigarette smoke also slows the flow of blood by making your blood thicker, which makes it harder to get even the reduced amount of oxygen to the blood. Smoking also prevents bones from healing and makes it harder for your body to fight off infection. If you're dealing with a wound or broken bone that won't heal, or an infection in your wound site, it's going to be that much harder for you to make progress during physical therapy.

Smoking Leads to Muscle Fatigue

Do you know what else needs oxygen deliveries from your red blood cells? Your muscles. But because smoking decreases the amount of oxygen your blood cells are carrying, less oxygen gets to your muscles as well.

Without enough oxygen, your muscles will tire faster. This means that you won't be able to put the same amount of time and effort into your physical therapy exercises as you would if you were a nonsmoker. You'll need more breaks and you'll need them sooner. This may mean going at a slower pace during your physical therapy.

Smoking Is Linked to Chronic Pain

Pain is usually part of the package when it comes to physical therapy. It's normal to feel pain after a surgery or injury, and physical therapy can actually help control and lessen it. However, smoking may make your pain problem worse, which will make therapy less effective. If the pain is bad enough, you may not be able to complete your therapy exercises as often or as completely as you should.

Why would smoking make your pain worse? Well, studies show that smokers, and even former smokers, have more chronic pain than non-smokers. One study of over 6000 women found that daily smokers experienced 104% more pain. Light smokers experienced a 68% increase in pain, and former smokers saw a 20% increase in pain. Scientists aren't entirely sure why but believe the problem might be caused by nicotine, which can temporarily decrease sensitivity to pain, but once the effect wears off, the pain actually becomes worse. The decreased oxygen in your blood system may also be part of the problem.

When you're recovering from an injury, smoking cessation may not be the first thing on your mind. However, quitting smoking could really help in your recovery. Ask your physical therapist or physician about smoking cessation options that can help you kick the habit and kick your recovery into high gear.