If you considering on having a fusion surgery, your surgeon will probably ask you to quit smoking. The reason this is so necessary is because nicotine kills bone. There are two cell lines, one that grows bone and one that eats bone and the nicotine kills the one that grows the bone. So, all that leaves is the bone-eating cells. And that really greatly decreases the chance that someone’s going to get a solid fusion. Any type of fusion surgery that a patient may undergo is major surgery so they need to have the best biological situation that is gonna be a successful surgery. There would be no point in going through an elective surgery if they didn’t have the best chance of healing from it.

And even if a patient’s not considering not having a fusion surgery, it’s good for them to quit smoking. Cause smoking’s been very well correlated with chronic pain; in fact smokers have a three hundred percent greater incidence of having chronic low back pain. So just quitting smoking alone may actually also help get rid of their pain whether or not they’re gonna have surgery.

This isn’t true just for smoking; cause it’s actually the nicotine that is killing the bone, so the patient also can’t use nicotine substitutes such as gum or patches they also can’t be using chewing tobacco, or cigars, or any other form of nicotine.

There are fortunately now some newer treatments for quitting smoking. The newest one now is a medication called Chantix, which actually binds to the receptor for nicotine in the brain and has been very effective in helping patients quit smoking.

If you are having difficulty quitting smoking, work with your doctor. There’s oftentimes other things that can help — besides just medications such as support groups, so you don’t have to go it alone.

The really important thing is that you do quit smoking.

Dr. Peter Ullrich is an orthopedic surgeon who retired from practice with more than 20 years of experience specializing in spine surgery. Dr. Ullrich previously practiced as an orthopedic spine surgeon at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin.