The American Society for Surgery of the Hand provides a report on the links between smoking and hand conditions, and it is quite shocking. This is because it indicates the following: “Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes and e-cigarettes have all been shown to negatively influence healing and worsen medical conditions in many parts of the body.”
In fact, that report goes on to outline that research has connected smoking with such severe issues as:
- “Reduced blood flow
- Poor wound healing and/or complications
- Poor bone healing
- Increased circulation problems
- Worsened nerve problems”
Just how is it that a habit like smoking can cause so many issues? It has to do entirely with the substance known as nicotine. This is the compound that is responsible for making smoking such a difficult habit to break, and is a very addictive substance. Few people realize that it is also the deadliest poison, even worse than cyanide or arsenic.
As one scientist has written, “Nicotine is, without a doubt, one murderous compound. When concentrated, it’s corrosive to soft tissues, and targets the nervous system with frightening speed.” It is also destructive to the hands and upper extremities and will harm even the smallest blood vessels at the fingertips as well as those that head right to the nerves, bones and other tissues.
Worsens Existing Conditions
On top of its ability to cause such problems to the hands and extremities, it is noted that it can worsen certain hand conditions. For example:
- Broken bones in the hands may struggle to heal, and some fractures may not heal at all because of smoking and nicotine exposure
- Nerve problems are a huge issue with smokers, and if they are also a diabetic smoker, there can be so much pressure on the nerves that they are damaged
- Skin wounds on the hands may not heal, or may experience slow healing due to exposure to smoke and nicotine
- “Reflex sympathetic dystrophy and cigarette smoking are statistically linked,” which is when there is pain in the arm or leg after a stroke, injury or heart attack
- The condition known as Dupuytren’s contracture may occur in the hands of smokers, and that is when “thickening occurs in the palm and can extend into the fingers. Firm pits, bumps and cords (thick lines) can develop and cause the fingers to bend into the palm.”
The National Institutes of Health also published a report from the Harefuah, an Israeli medical journal, that said, “smoking is known to cause a multitude of harmful effects throughout the body…[including] decreased hand vascularity due to tobacco use … Raynaud’s phenomenon, hand-arm vibration syndrome, Buerger’s disease, Dupuytren’s contracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, effects on skin and fingernails, decreased skin and bone healing, complications of digit replantation and complex regional pain syndrome… the possible increased risk of congenital hand malformations as related to maternal smoking.”
What to Do about the Effects of Smoking on the Hands
While immediate cessation is a good way to begin to mitigate the damages done to the body by smoking, it is particularly true if the individual is about to undergo some sort of surgery or is recovering from a trauma or recent surgical procedure. Stopping is the key to healing and recovery. As the ASSH noted, the risks are so high that “your surgeon may ask you to take a nicotine test to prove that you have stopped smoking.”
Smoking and Skin
It has to also be considered that smoking has an effect on the skin of the hands. In fact, smoking is extremely detrimental to the skin in general. Just consider what the medically reviewed article from verywellmind had to say about the ways that smoking damages skin:
- The toxins in smoke destroy collagen and elastin, forcing skin to lose its suppleness and firmness
- It prematurely ages skin
- It causes vascular constriction that limits blood flow
- It leads to sagging skin in the upper body
- It can lead to skin cancer. In fact, “chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can be as much as 52 percent higher than if you didn’t smoke…Researchers suspect that the increased risk comes from a lowered immune system due to the toxins in cigarette smoke.”
- It can cause psoriasis by irritating or affecting the immune system and triggering inflammation and skin cell growth
- It can cause acne inversa, an “inflammatory skin disease that affects people in areas of the body where skin rubs against skin, like the armpits, groin, and under the breasts”
- It presents an increased risk for Buerger’s disease, which is a form of vasculitis that inflames the blood vessels of the hands and causes both tissue damage and pain, as well as skin ulcers and the risk for gangrene (Note: It can also present as chronically cold hands, pain when moving, and limited mobility)
- It may lead to telangiectasia, which is another blood vessel restricting response to nicotine, and leads to spider veins and blotchy skin
- It changes the skin tone of a smoker due to lack of oxygen and the 7000+ chemicals in cigarette smoke. Tar stains are also a cause of discoloration in the hands
Smoking cessation can almost instantly turn things around and many former smokers see such damages as discoloration disappear, collagen production return, and blood flow to skin cells begin to function as normal.
Nicotine is a Real Problem
As noted, all of the issues that are caused by smoking, and particularly those that affect the hands, are cued by nicotine. It is both a sedative and stimulant and it gives the body a jolt that impacts the adrenal glands, which then release adrenaline. This also boosts heart rate and respiration, increases the blood pressure, and cues a flood of blood sugar. It is a dopamine trigger and it may even cause issues with emotions, movement and feelings of pain or pleasure.
It is very difficult to quit smoking because of nicotine, but the impact it has on the body, and particularly the hands, makes it essential to give up this costly and dangerous habit in order to protect ongoing health and wellness.