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What is Bone Graft Surgery?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A number of different activities can cause damage to a bone. An accident, disease, or old age can all contribute to bones breaking or result in other bone deformities. In cases when a break is complicated, dangerous for the patient, or hard for the body to repair, a bone graft surgery may be necessary. Bone graft surgery is the procedure by which a surgeon takes bone from one area and inserts it into the broken bone. There, the transplanted bone will help the broken one heal.

Bones provide structure for the human body, as well as strength and stability. Bones are not solid, however. They are actually a matrix of collagen that has deposits of calcium and phosphates to give it strength. Within the bone are different cells that build, repair, maintain, and break down the bone.

When a bone graft is placed in a broken bone, the cells within graft can make new bone, change the original bone cells so they can make new bone, or provide a structure for new bone to grow on. The process of the graft making new bone is called osteogenesis. When the graft changes the host bone so that it can make new bone, it is called osteoinduction. Osteoconduction is the name given when the graft provides a structure for the bone to grow on. In each case, the intention is for the introduction of the graft to help in the repair of broken bone.

There are two types of bone graft surgery: autographs and allographs. Autographs refer to taking a graft from one part of the patient and putting it into that same patient's fracture. Often, this sample is taken from the hip or ribs. Since the graft comes from the patient, the risk of the body rejecting the graft is low. The extra incision required to harvest the bone, however, may result in other side effects such as prolonged pain and greater blood loss.

The other type of bone graft surgery, an allograph, refers to a surgeon harvesting the graft from an outside source. Sometimes, this can be a living person, but often the graft is taken from a cadaver. These types of grafts are usually taken from a person who has donated his or her body for such a purpose and are frozen until needed. Allographs are usually not as successful as autographs and have an increased risk for transferring diseases to a patient. It is, however, a plentiful source.

Bone graft surgery can be used to treat and fix a variety of problems, not just broken bones. For instance, it can be used in spinal fusion, a procedure that is used to treat some types of spinal difficulties. In addition, it can be used to treat bone defects caused by various diseases. Bone graft surgery can also be used if a patient needs to undergo reconstructive surgery. The procedure, however, does come with its risks and benefits, and a doctor can detail everything a patient needs to know before he undergoes the surgery.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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