NEW YORK: Pulled muscles and broken bones are common during military training and even more common among soldiers who smoke, according to a review of past research.
The study can’t say why the more soldiers smoke, the greater the increase in their risk of “overuse musculoskeletal injuries,” but since smoking is a preventable risk factor, it’s another good reason to quit, they write in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Smoking rates are higher, at about 35 percent, in the U.S. military than in the general U.S. population, where about 19 percent of civilians smoke, the authors write.
Muscle and bone injuries are also very common for military members, said lead author Dr. Sheryl Bedno of the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, adding that as many as one third of military men and two thirds of military women seek medical care for these types of injuries.
“We suspected that smoking was associated with injury, but the findings from the research were not consistent,” Bedno told Reuters Health by email. She noted that smoking decreases bone density and slows down wound healing.
To determine whether smoking is linked to injury among members of the military, the study team reviewed 18 studies on military training injuries, such as stress fractures, hip fractures, knee pain or lower extremity injures and tobacco use.
Overall, they found that soldiers who smoked were 31 percent more likely to sustain injuries than non-smokers. For women, the extra injury risk tied to smoking was somewhat lower at 23 percent.
The more one smoked, the greater the risk increase. Nine studies had data on the amount soldiers smoked, and they found that men who were light smokers had 26 percent higher injury risk compared to nonsmokers, and the heaviest smokers had an 84 percent risk increase.
Though smoking likely plays a large role in the increase in injury risk, there may be other characteristics of people who smoke that could have an effect on their risk, said Edgar Vieira, an injury researcher who was not involved in the study.
“There are many other things that will have a stronger effect on injury prevention than smoking cessation, such as reducing overtraining, providing sufficient recovery time and stretching,” said Vieira, who directs the physical therapy doctorate program at Florida International University in Miami.
Even quitting smoking during training times may not be enough to protect military members from injury, said Vieira, noting that the inflammation and decreased blood flow caused by smoking can have long-term effects.
“The best protection is not to smoke. In addition to all well know health harms it causes, it may also increase your risk of injury,” Vieira said.
“Smoking increases the chances of getting an exercise-related injury about 30 percent, and the more you smoke, the higher the risk of injury,” Bedno said. “We encourage anyone who smokes to stop at the earliest time possible.”