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The Effect of Smoking on Spinal Fusion

Daniel Berman, BA,1 Jonathan H Oren, MD,2 John Bendo, MD,3 Jeffrey Spivak, MD3

1Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, 2Lenox Hill Hospital, Manhattan, NY, 3NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, Manhattan, NY



Spinal fusion surgery is performed about half a million times per year in the United States and millions more worldwide. It is an effective method for reducing pain, increasing stability, and correcting deformity in patients with various spinal conditions. In addition to being a well-established risk factor for a variety of medical conditions, smoking has deleterious effects on the bone healing of spinal fusions. This review aims to specifically analyze the ways in which smoking affects the outcomes of spinal fusion and to explore ways in which these negative consequences can be avoided.


This article provides a complete understanding of the ways smoking affects spinal fusion from a biochemical and clinical perspective. Recommendations are also provided for ways in which surgeons can limit patient exposure to the most serious negative outcomes associated with cigarette smoking.

Study Design/Setting

This study was a retrospective literature review done using the NCBI database. The research was compiled at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases and the NYU Center for Musculoskeletal Care.


A comprehensive literature review was done spanning research on a variety of subjects related to smoking and spinal fusion surgery. The biochemistry of smoking and fusion healing were examined in great detail. In addition, both in vivo animal studies and human clinical studies were evaluated to explore fusion success related to the effects of smoking and its biochemical factors on spinal fusion surgery.


Smoking significantly increases the risk of pseudoarthrosis for patients undergoing both lumbar and cervical fusions. In addition to nonunion, smoking also increases the risk of other perioperative complications such as infection, adjacent-segment pathology, and dysphagia. Treatment options are available that can be explored to reduce the risk of smoking-related morbidity, such as nicotine replacement therapy and use of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs).


It has been clearly demonstrated from both a biochemical and clinical perspective that smoking increases the rate of perioperative complications for patients undergoing spinal fusion surgery, particularly pseudoarthosis. It has also been shown that there are certain approaches that can reduce the risk of morbidity. The most important recommendation is smoking cessation for four weeks after surgery. In addition, patients may be treated with certain surgical techniques, including the use of BMPs, to reduce the risk of pseudoarthrosis. Lastly, nicotine replacement therapy is an area of continued interest in relation to spinal fusion outcomes and more research needs to be done to determine its efficacy moving forward.

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spinal fusion, smoking, vertebral column degeneration, pseudoarthrosis, perioperative complications
Volume 11 Issue 4
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