Bone grafting is a surgical procedure that uses transplanted bone to repair and rebuild diseased or damaged bones. Using real bone from your own body (autologous), a bone graft is the gold standard for repairing bones almost anywhere in your body. Your surgeon might take bone from your hips, legs, or ribs to perform the graft. Sometimes, surgeons also use bone tissue donated from cadavers to perform bone grafting.
Most of your skeleton consists of bone matrix. This is the hard material that helps give the bones their strength. Inside the matrix are living bone cells. These make and maintain this matrix. The cells in this matrix can help repair and heal bone when necessary.
When you break your bone, the healing process begins. As long as the break in your bone is not too large, your bone cells can repair it. Sometimes, though, a fracture results in a large loss of bone, like when a large chunk of the bone crumbles away. In these cases, your bone might not fully heal without a bone graft.
During a bone graft, your surgeon inserts a new piece of bone in the place where a bone needs to heal or join. The cells inside the new bone can then seal themselves to the old bone. They usually get the new bone from the iliac bone of the pelvic bone high above the hip joint. Other bonces used are the ribs, leg bones, or donor bones.
Surgeons often perform bone grafting as a part of some other medical procedure. For example, if you have a bad fracture of your thighbone, your healthcare provider might perform a bone graft as part of other necessary repairs on your bone. Your healthcare provider might make an incision in your hip to remove a small piece of your hip bone, using that to perform your graft.
In some cases, an artificial material is used in a similar way, but this is not a bone graft in the traditional sense. You will typically be put to sleep with general anesthesia for the procedure.
Why might I need bone grafting?
You might need bone grafting to promote bone healing and growth for a number of different medical reasons.
Some specific conditions that might require a bone graft include:
- An initial fracture that your doctor suspects won’t heal without a graft
- A fracture that you previously did not have treated with a graft and that didn’t heal well
- Diseases of the bone, like osteonecrosis or cancer
- Spinal fusion surgery (which you might need if you have an unstable spine)
- Dental implant surgery (which you might need if you want to replace missing teeth)
- Surgically implanted devices, like in total knee replacement, to help promote bone growth around the structure
These bone grafts can provide a framework for the growth of new, living bone. Hips, knees, and spine are common locations for bone grafting, but you might need bone grafting for a different bone in your body.