What Is a Bone Graft and How Is It Used in Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery’s purpose is to provide stability by melding two bones together. Whether the procedure has been suggested to you as a result of degenerative disc disease or some kind of traumatic injury, the use of bone graft helps achieve the desired results by forming either the framework on which new bone will grow or a protective layer to encourage it.

Though many surgeries performed by our spine specialty practice in New Jersey provides immediate or nearly immediate results, bone graft is a more deliberate process in which the surgeon sets the stage and the patient’s body does the rest. Instruments such as rods and screws provide a foundation around which new bone grows, but it is the graft that actually stimulates the body to initiate new growth. It is only once this happens and the newly formed bone becomes stronger that the actual spinal fusion occurs.

The surgeon generally chooses one of two options for applying the bone material within the surgical site. In some cases the graft will be used to replace missing or damaged material, while in others the bone graft material provide an additional layer of support to what is already there. Similarly, there are multiple options for the material that can be used for bone grafts. These include:

Autograft

Bone that is harvested directly from the patient, usually from their pelvic bone, their rib or their spine. There are many advantages to using material directly from the patient, including a greater chance for successfully stimulating the healing process and a lower risk of infection or transmission of disease.

Unfortunately, autografts tend to be more painful because of the process of removing the material from another location in the body. Local autograft is also a possibility. It is taken from the site where the fusion is going to take place, usually from material that formed bony spurs that need to be removed in order to minimize pain and accomplish the decompression procedure.

Allograft

A bone that is donated by another human and which is generally stored in a tissue bank specifically for this purpose. The material is harvested from cadavers and then frozen or freeze dried for storage. Though allografts can work, they do not have the same stimulating effect as an autograft because the bone does not contain live cells.

Bone Graft Substitutes

In addition to using human tissue from either the patient or a tissue bank, man-made substitutes and bone grafts made of other natural materials are also available. These are both safe and effective, and have been created through innovative processes to incorporate proteins and a porous structure aimed at facilitating bone growth. 

The options for substitutes include Demineralized Bone Matrix which is a process that removes mineral content from donor bone tissue in order to help improve the impact of growth factors; Ceramic-based Bone Graft Extenders that are combined with other sources of bone; and Bone Morphogenetic Protein, which are found in trace amounts in human bone and produced via genetic engineering.

Our spine surgeon in New Jersey will make the choice of materials that will be most effective for your particular situation. To see whether spinal fusion is the solution to your condition, contact our office today to set up a time for a consultation.

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