Tobacco products such as cigarettes, pipes, and cigars can all wreak havoc on your lungs. However, what many smokers don't realize is that tobacco use affects more than just their lungs—it can impair blood flow and destroy the tissues in the lower limbs. As a result, podiatrists treat thousands of smokers every year for a variety of foot and ankle problems.
Foot Injuries and Conditions Linked to Tobacco Use
One of the biggest complications smokers suffer is impaired circulation. Smoking constricts the blood vessels, making it harder and harder for your heart to pump blood throughout the body. As the hands and feet are farthest away from the heart, they don't receive as much circulation as other parts of your body, making it difficult for wounds to heal and affecting touch sensation. Over time, smoking severely damages the ability to absorb oxygen not just in the lungs, but throughout the entire body.
Smokers are more likely to suffer complications, such as:
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). If you have persistent leg pain or sores on your feet that refuse to heal, you may be showing signs of peripheral arterial disease. Tobacco causes plaque to build up in the arteries, stiffening the arterial walls and narrowing your blood vessels. As blood vessels shrink, it becomes extremely difficult for blood to circulate in the tiny capillaries of the legs and feet, depriving your limbs of oxygen and nutrients. Smokers are four times more likely to develop PAD than non-smokers.
- Osteoporosis. Smoking impairs the development of healthy bone tissue, causing the steady breakdown of bones known as osteoporosis. If your skeleton is unable to create new bone tissue, it becomes brittle and weak, making it likely to fracture. As your feet carry all of the pressure of your weight and movement, the odds of a broken bone in the feet and ankles increases with every passing day.
- Raynaud's disease. Raynaud's disease is an uncomfortable condition caused by the spasming of blood vessels in the extremities. Patients with this condition may have pale feet with white or blue toes, and their feet may be cold or numb. Cigarette smoking can both cause and worsen symptoms of Raynaud's disease.
- Buerger's disease. Buerger's disease involves impaired blood flow to the extremities due to the swelling of blood vessel walls. Nearly everyone with Buerger's disease is a current or former smoker, with the highest risk occurring in people who smoke a pack a day or more. If not treated, the condition can cause leg pain, blood clots, tissue damage, and even gangrene that requires amputation.
Best Practices for Your Feet If You Are a Smoker
Considering the vast array of health problems that affect cigarette smokers, the best way to avoid injuries in the feet and beyond is to stop using tobacco. Quitting can reverse any potentially life-threatening conditions and stop you from suffering permanent damage.
In addition to curbing tobacco use, you and your podiatrist can prevent foot complications by:
- Addressing skin and nail problems. A podiatrist can perform wound care for foot ulcers, trim toenails, and advise you on lotions and foot care best practices.
- Exploring exercise and nutrition. Our staff can help you choose a foot-safe exercise program to help healthy blood flow, increase bone density, and relieve the pain in your extremities.
- Creating orthotics. Our podiatrists can make adjustments to your shoes, recommend better footwear, or create custom orthotics to increase your mobility.
- Scheduling surgery. Surgery is more complicated for smokers due to their increased risks of blood clots, healing difficulties, and postoperative infection rates. However, if conservative treatments for fractures or circulation problems are not effective, surgery may be the only remaining option.
Whether you have an ongoing skin or toenail condition or need immediate intervention for an injury, the foot specialists at Greater Washington Advanced Podiatry are here to help. We offer free initial consultations to determine the root cause of the problem, and create a customized treatment plan to get you back on your feet as soon as possible. Simply fill out our online contact form or call us at (301) 515-FEET to set up your first visit.