A bone graft during spinal fusion surgery is used to create a “bridge” between vertebrae for the purpose of immobilizing an area of the spine that’s surrounding an impinged or irritated nerve root. The bone graft may be implanted on the front, the back, or inside the body of the vertebra, usually with the aid of metal cages, screws, rods, or plates.
Bone grafts take time to reach full effect. The graft itself does not provide the necessary stability. Rather, the bone graft serves as a “seed” that produces new bone growth. It often takes a year or more for the new bone to grow enough to lock, or fuse, the associated vertebrae together. Furthermore, there is never a guarantee that a bone graft will be successful.
Types of bone graft for spinal fusion surgery include:
- Autograft – bone matter that is taken from another region in the patient’s body, often from the pelvis; this is also called autologous bone
- Allograft – bone tissue from a cadaver that is stored in “bone banks”
- Bone substitutes – used as bone graft “extenders,” usually in conjunction with allograft
- Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) – used to stimulate bone growth, BMPs have shown promise in reducing or eliminating the need for harvesting bone from the patient’s body
The use of a patient’s own bone tissue has proven to be the most effective way to ensure a successful spinal fusion, but this method usually exposes to the patient to additional pain from the separate operation to harvest bone for the graft. Because of the potential complications involved with spine fusion, most doctors will present surgery as an option only after months of conservative treatments prove ineffective.
Should back surgery become a consideration, Laser Spine Institute (LSI) offers a spinal fusion alternative. The award-winning surgeons at LSI use gentle, endoscopic techniques to perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can help you rediscover a life without pain. Contact LSI to learn more and for a free review of your MRI or CT scan.