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A Patients' Guide to Bone Growth Stimulation

Patients' Guide to Bone Growth Stimulation

Improving spinal bone healing in at-risk patients

This Guide introduces you to bone growth stimulation (BGS) as a therapy after spinal fusion. Your surgeon can prescribe BGS for your use as a supplemental treatment after a cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) spine surgery that includes a fusion procedure or, as a non-surgical treatment of failed fusion. Naturally, you have questions about this technology. The information provided can help you learn about:

  • How bone heals
  • Risk factors for a poor or failed fusion
  • Role of bone growth stimulation in spine fusion aftercare
  • Questions to ask your spine surgeon
"Bone growth stimulation for use in both the cervical and lumbar spine has shown to significantly benefit fusion results. Having been a study center for this technology, I have used bone growth stimulation in the majority of my post-operative cervical and lumbar patient cases. Not every patient is a candidate for bone growth stimulation. The patient evaluation criteria I use includes:
  • Patients who smoke
  • Multi-level fusions; more than one level of the spine is fused
  • Co-morbidities (risk factors) that could hinder bone healing and growth"
—Gerard J. Girasole, MD
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Center 

About spinal fusion
Each year hundreds of thousands of patients undergo cervical and/or lumbar spine surgery. The surgical procedure may involve spinal fusion. The goal of spinal fusion is to stabilize the spine. Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that joins two or more vertebrae, often using screws, plates and interbody devices (implants). After surgery the bone begins to heal and grow around and over the implants. Fusion is intended to heal into a solid bone mass to prevent motion that can cause or contribute to back or neck pain. Certain spine surgery patients are at-risk for spinal fusion to fail. A failed fusion is also called pseudarthrosis or non-union. Pseudarthrosis and non-union are medical terms your surgeon uses to define a fusion problem.

Common spinal problems treated surgically with fusion include:

Cervical / Lumbar

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Fracture
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis

Lumbar

  • Adult degenerative scoliosis
  • Spondylolisthesis

How can a bone growth stimulator help spinal fusion?
A BGS sends low level electrical signals to the fusion site. The electrical signals activate the body's natural bone healing process, which may be impaired in at-risk patients.

Bone growth stimulation has been used for decades to help bone heal.
Great discoveries were made about 50 years ago when scientists found that low-level electrical fields stimulate the body's bone-healing process. Other advances such as different types of energy to stimulate bone growth, electromagnetic coil technology and simply better devices, supported by scientific and clinical research, have improved bone healing in patients who undergo spinal fusion.

Different types of bone growth stimulators
As you might imagine, not all bone growth stimulators are the same. Certain types are designed to be surgically implanted (internal BGS) and other stimulators are worn outside the body (external BGS). Other differences include the type of electrical current or magnetic field generated by the device and how stimulation is transmitted to the spine.

The four types of devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treat with direct current1,capacitive coupling2, combined magnetic fields3 or pulsed electromagnetic fields.4-6 Overall, it has been proven that fusion success can be increased in a patient treated with BGS compared to surgery without the use of BGS.

Updated on: 10/08/13
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Old bone cells are consistently broken down and replaced by new bone cells. Patients who undergo spinal fusion will be interested to learn how bone heals and risk factors that can disrupt bone healing.
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