Your body’s ability to heal and repair is particularly important after a spine surgery that involves fusion—joining two or more spinal bones together. For example, a damaged disc between two vertebral bodies may be removed (discectomy). An interbody device may be implanted to fill the empty disc space. Bone graft is packed into and around the interbody device. Bone graft helps stimulate new bone to grow, and over time fuse—or heal together the two vertebral bodies and disc space into one solid, stable construct.
Will Your Spinal Bone Fuse?
However, bone may not heal or mend properly in people who use tobacco (eg, smoke cigarettes), have diabetes, obesity, or osteoporosis. There are different types of medical conditions and even prescription drugs that may interfere with your body’s ability to grow healthy new bone. Your spine surgeon learns about your disorders or medications that may cause bone not to heal properly while discussing your history and during your physical examination.
If your surgeon suspects you may be at risk for not fusing, he/she may prescribe a bone growth stimulator for you to wear after your spine operation. A bone growth stimulator (BGS) is a supplemental device that can be worn after lumbar (low back) spine surgery or cervical (neck) surgery to help the bones heal and fuse.
About Bone Growth Stimulation
Also known as osteogenesis (ie, bone formation) stimulation, bone growth stimulators work by sending low level electrical or electromagnetic signals directly to and around the fusion site. In an at-risk patient whose natural bone healing process may be impaired, these signals help activate the bone healing process.
The idea of using electrical stimulation to mend bones may sound surprising but in fact, it’s not new. In the 1950s, scientists discovered something interesting: when a bone is broken, it generates a low-level electrical or electromagnetic field that activates the body’s own repair mechanism. This, in turn, promotes bone healing.
Not all BGSs look the same, and some work differently than others. Some are surgically implanted (internal BGS) and others are worn outside the body (external BGS). Bone growth stimulation has been in use for more than 25 years, and devices are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Modern bone growth stimulators are designed to allow patients to be active. Many of these devices are battery powered, lightweight and worn over clothing for a prescribed period of time every day. Whatever activities your spine surgeon allows you to do, chances are you can do them while wearing your BGS! To learn more about bone growth stimulation, talk with your surgeon.