Nicotine, a potent and addictive chemical in tobacco products, has detrimental effects on overall health. Its direct impact on joint health, however, is a lesser-known concern.
“We all know that nicotine is a compound found in tobacco products and that it can have negative effects on the human body,” says Dr Vaibhav Bagaria, director of the department of orthopedics, Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai. “Most of what we know is focused on cardiovascular and respiratory problems. But nicotine can also hurt joint health.”
How nicotine affects joint health
Vasoconstriction and reduced blood flow: Nicotine is a potent vasoconstrictor and narrows the blood vessels. “Some of the potential effects may be related to a decrease in the blood flow. As the vessels that supply the joints can get constricted following the use of nicotine. This may prevent nutrients and oxygen from reaching the joint tissue and lead to joint pain and damage,” says Dr Bagaria.
Inflammation: There is a clear link between nicotine and increased levels of inflammations in the body. A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that nicotine is an inducer of NETosis (refers to a form of pathogen-induced cell death as opposed to different means of cellular death) and may play an important role in rheumatoid arthritis-associated inflammation. Furthermore, the study provides molecular evidence of how Nicotine-induced inflammation can exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis, leading to greater pain and damage to the joint tissues.
Cartilage damage: Cartilage is crucial for cushioning and protecting the ends of bones within joints. “Nicotine use has been shown to accelerate joint degeneration. This is because it causes the breakdown of the cartilage and bone tissues in joints and leads to rapid progression of osteoarthritis,” says Dr Bagaria.
Weakening of bones: Nicotine use can lead to decreased bone density, making bones more fragile and susceptible to fractures. A systematic review published in the Journal of Environment and Public Health found clear evidence of the negative effects of smoking on the musculoskeletal system. Smoking was associated with lower bone mineral density, an increased risk for fracture, periodontitis, alveolar bone loss and implant failure, increased joint disease, poor functional outcomes, and poor therapeutic response. They also found evidence of adverse effects on muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
Reduced synovial fluid: Joints are lubricated by synovial fluid, which allows for smooth movement. Nicotine may alter the composition of this fluid, potentially reducing its effectiveness in providing joint lubrication.
Impact on pain perception and healing: Nicotine can affect pain perception and tolerance. This means that individuals who smoke may be more likely to tolerate joint pain and delay seeking medical attention, allowing joint problems to progress unchecked. For individuals recovering from joint injuries or surgeries, nicotine can impair the body’s ability to heal and regenerate tissues. A slow healing process leads to prolonged joint discomfort and functional limitations. A research paper published in the journal, Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, found that men with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, and who smoke, have an increased risk for articular cartilage loss and have more severe knee pain than men who do not smoke.
Recovery timeline after quitting nicotine
Upon quitting nicotine, you may experience some immediate benefits. Within hours to days of quitting, blood flow begins to improve, which enhances the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the joint tissues. In the weeks and months following nicotine cessation, many notice improvements in joint comfort and mobility. This is due to reduced inflammation, improved circulation, and the body’s natural healing processes.
It can take several months to years for joints to fully recover, especially if there was significant joint damage due to nicotine use. To support joint health and recovery, adopt a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercise, eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients, and hydrate properly.
“Those who are using nicotine should also visit an orthopaedic surgeon to ensure that there is no adverse effect from the use of these products,” says Dr Bagaria.
- Nicotine has long been associated with detrimental effects on overall health. Its influence on joint health is a lesser-known concern that deserves attention.
- Reduced blood flow, increased inflammation, cartilage damage, weakening of bones, and changes in pain perception and healing are some of the effects.
- Upon quitting nicotine, you may experience some immediate benefits. Within hours to days of quitting, blood flow begins to improve and within weeks or months, you may see improvements in joint comfort and mobility.