A bone graft is the insertion of a material at the site of bone loss in order to stimulate bone growth. In most situations, the material that is inserted in the site is bone tissue, and usually it comes from another area on the patient's own body. The material is inserted into the area missing bone tissue and one of three things is expected to happen.
The transplanted material can either begin to grow on its own to replace the missing tissue, or it can stimulate surrounding tissue to repair the bone loss, or finally it can simply serve as a scaffolding for normal bone growth from the injured bone. Depending on where in the body the injury occurred, and which bone tissue is inserted, one or all of these repair mechanisms can take place.
By far the most common area for a bone graft to be done is in the mouth. Teeth are anchored in the mouth by the bone that lies below it. When a tooth has been missing for a fairly long time, the bone underneath it, with no purpose, will begin to disolve back into the body.
If a patient wants to replace that lost tooth, it may be necessary to first replace the bone underneath where the new tooth will be inserted. In most situations, the bone graft will come from another site in the mouth, usually the bone on the inside of the chin.
Another fairly common bone graft is called Arthodesis. Arthodesis is the fusing together of two bones which eliminates a joint. In most situations, the joint is effectively removed because it causes chronic pain. The most frequent site of Arthodesis is the lower back or other area on the spinal column.
This is usually a last resort because of chronic pain associated with a spinal column injury. Other areas where arthodesis is done include the fingers, toes and wrists.
Bone grafts in other parts of the body are most often caused by trauma, tumors or infections. A severe fracture, where bone might be lost during the injury often requires a bone graft to replace the missing bone tissue. A good example of this is in severe trauma to a leg, where the only way to allow normal walking is to replace bone tissue so both legs are the same length.
In some situations, a tumor which is removed will leave a large hole in the bone tissues. Bone grafts are used to fill the space previously taken by the tumor. Similarly, in some extreme infection cases, it is necessary for a surgeon to remove bone tissue in order to get rid of an infection. After the infection is removed, it is necessary to insert bone tissue to replace that which was taken.
The complications of a bone graft are similar to any surgery. Loss of blood, risk of infection and pain. Bone grafts have the added disadvantage in that in most cases, there are two sites in the body that are affected. In many situations, bone graft tissue is removed from the hip bone, and a common complication is chronic pain in the hip at the site of tissue removal.