Bone is amazing: surgeons can take it from one part of the body and place it in another, and it will grow there. Bone is one of the only tissues in our body that can regenerate in this way. If you break your leg, for example, not only will the break heal but extra bone grows in. This is called a bony callus and it makes the area that was broken stronger than ever. Spine surgeons often make use of this natural phenomenon to perform a spinal fusion. That is, they use the natural growing powers of bone to stabilize a segment of the spine.
They often do this when bone from the spine has to be removed. The space that is left needs to be filled in and the area stabilized. Surgeons often fill in the space with bone taken from the patient’s own hip. This bone graft is locked into place with screws and a metal plate to keep it from moving. Over time, the bone knits into the bone around it and forms a fusion.
Harvesting bone from a patient’s hip is not done lightly, however. Dr. Michael Kaiser from the The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York told fellow surgeons at a meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons that the hip pain that can result is often underestimated. He said that depending on the patient, other options may need to be considered.
Bone taken from the patient’s own body is ideal because of its convenience. It is also ultra compatible, and does the job with few complications. When the bone is taken from the hip, however, it becomes another surgical site. Most of the time that is OK because the patient is given pain medicine and the bone heals up with no problem. Occasionally though, the pain persists and can be a problem in and of itself.
Dr. Kaiser talked about some alternatives. Bone, for example, can be taken from a cadaver. This bone can also mesh in with the patient’s bone and form a natural fusion, but because it comes from another person, there is a risk of infection or incompatibility.
Substances like titanium, ceramic, carbon, or polymers can also be used in place of bone. These are strong and don’t usually react negatively with a patient’s body, but they won’t organically fuse to the other bone.
As an alternative to fusion in the case of spinal disc disease, Dr. Kaiser has been involved in clinical trials for the use of an artificial disc replacement. No bone needs to be harvested and movement of the cervical spine is retained.
The development of new materials and devices continues to advance but in many cases, spinal surgeons like Dr. Kaiser are making the best use of the body’s own natural resources, and sometimes that means that bone from the hip is indeed connected to the bones in the neck.
Originally posted 2/9/2010