Few industries fail to benefit from new or advancing technology, and orthopedic health is no exception, especially when it comes to bone repair and specifically bone grafting procedures. Although bone grafting is not new, recent technological advancements have impacted the techniques and devices for bone graft surgeries to make it safer and more common. Read on for an overview of bone grafts, how and why they are used, and what to expect if you need to have a bone repair done via bone graft.
What is a Bone Graft?
Most simply stated, bone graft surgery transplants bone tissue from one bone to another. The bone tissue transplanted during a bone grafting can be synthetic, can come from a donor, or can come from the body of the patient receiving the bone graft. This kind of bone repair doesn’t necessarily replace damaged, malformed, or failing bone, but establishes a foundation for the continuing growth of new and healthy bone.
How Are Bone Grafts Used?
Bone grafts are used to repair bones and joints that have been compromised by injuries, fractures, malformation, trauma, or disease. They can also be used to reinforce bone growth in or near implanted parts as are common with knee and hip replacements. The four most common catalysts for bone repair graft procedures are complex fractures that will struggle to heal, fusing of bones across a damaged joint, bone regeneration, and for supporting bone growth after implants.
Different Kinds of Bone Grafts
There are a number of different techniques and materials in a range of different types of bone graft surgeries, but two kinds of bone grafts are the most common: Autograft and Allograft. Both of these terms can refer to any kind of tissue transplant, not exclusively bone tissue transplants.
Conversely, autograft refers to procedures which transplant tissue from one part of a patient’s body to another. Autograft procedures are more difficult for the patient but are often the only alternative when tissue with living cells is necessary.
Allograft bone repair takes bone tissue from donors – very commonly, deceased organ donors, but in some cases living donors. Allograft tissue generally does not contain any living cells, so it is less effectively used to reinforce bone growth, making it a less viable alternative for some procedures. But it simplifies the grafting procedure for the patient by limiting the surgical sites to one.
The Benefits of Bone Grafting for Bone Repair
Aside from the complete repair of complex fractures, including on bones with multiple fractures, bone grafting reinforces the growth of new living bone, strengthens bones that have been weakened by injuries, trauma, disease, or disorders, and, in the case of autograft procedures, introduces living cells into diseased or traumatized tissue.
The Potential Risks of Bone Grafting for Bone Repair
Bone graft surgeries, of course, carry many of the same risks as other surgeries. In some cases, bone graft surgeries can also produce severe inflammation, more pain than expected, and, very infrequently, nerve injury. Allograft surgeries also carry the risk of rejection, in which the patient’s body rejects the transplanted tissue, though this is less common and can be mitigated with courses of medication.
What to Expect During a Bone Grafting Procedure
With few rare exceptions, general anesthesia is administered. While the procedural steps can vary depending on factors including the nature of the trauma and the location of the surgery, it is most common that a surgical incision is created where the graft will be performed, and the donated bone will be shaped to fit the affected area as seamlessly as possible. The bone will be inserted and fixed in place with screws, pins, or other surgical hardware, and the incision will be closed with sutures. In most cases, the affected area is supported with a splint, a cast, or both.
Bone Grafting Recovery
Recovery time and success depend on a number of variable factors including the size and location of the graft and patient health but can take as long as four months or as few as three weeks. During this time, patients must refrain from much physical activity but will be required to remain diligent with rehabilitative exercise. Cold and heat will be ordered to manage discomfort, and frequent elevation to manage potential inflammation.