Although smoking’s ill effects on the lungs and heart are well known, it can be equally harmful to the foot.
The tissues of our body require oxygen to function, remain healthy, and heal from injury. Chemicals found in cigarette smoke causes changes to the way blood carries oxygen. Hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen throughout the body, cannot carry as much oxygen as usual when exposed to cigarette smoke.
Smoking also causes tiny blood vessels in the body (and your foot) to become narrow, which makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the tissues. In addition, smoking can make the blood thicker so that it doesn’t flow as easily through narrowed vessels. Think about a busy four-lane highway filled with large trucks hauling precious cargo. If this were the body, (and in particular the foot) smoking would have the effect of shutting the highway down to two lanes and converting the trucks to cars while pouring sticky tar on the road. Much less cargo would go where it needs to go. In the same way, areas of the body that need oxygen (like your foot) go without.
What this means specifically: Smoking causes increased risk of blood clots as well as increased risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is a condition where blood cannot flow properly through blood vessels, eventually causing death to tissues such as skin, bone, tendon etc. In addition, smoking causes delay and poor healing following any injury or surgical procedure. Smoking is associated with a higher post-operative infection rate, higher surgical failure and a greater need for further surgery. Studies have shown that quitting smoking even 6 weeks before surgery can improve surgical healing. For injuries of the foot, smoking can significantly inhibit repair cells from arriving to injury site. Smokers are 1.5 times more likely to suffer overuse injuries, such as bursitis or tendonitis, than non-smokers.
And if you need even ANOTHER reason to quit, calluses and cracks can develop on your foot. Ouch! Smoking breaks down a protein in the skin called elastin, which gives skin it’s stretchy qualities, leading to calluses and cracks.
If you have foot problems and are struggling with quitting smoking, it would be best to discuss this with your podiatrist. Your podiatrist can give you information about smoking cessation programs and point you in the best direction for treatment.