Electricity as a Bone Growth Stimulator in the Spine

Sep. 29, 2014

Dr. Michael Kaiser, Associate Director of The Spine Hospital at The Neurological Institute of New York, supervised a seventeen-chapter study published this summer in Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. The final chapter of the study focuses on electromagnetic energy as a bone growth stimulator in lumbar fusion surgery.

In lumbar fusion surgery, bone is grafted into the lumbar, or lower, spine. The bone graft is encouraged to grow and fuse, which stabilizes that section of the spine. Electrical and electromagnetic energy are well-established stimulators of bone growth. In fact, they are often used to treat fractures in long bones.

Dr. Kaiser and other neurosurgeons addressed the question: are electricity and electromagnetism effective in encouraging grafted bone to grow and fuse in the lumbar spine? If so, are these treatments more effective for some patients than for others? Are some types of treatment more effective than others?

Dr. Kaiser and the other researchers reviewed studies published since the last large-scale review of the literature, which took place in 2005. Unfortunately, the team’s review found that “there have been few clinical trials [since 2005] that provide further insight into the clinical utility of electromagnetic energy as a bone growth stimulator.”

In addition, “the few studies that have investigated the use of such stimulators have methodological flaws that…prohibit the formulation of strong recommendations.” In other words, there aren’t a lot of new studies about electrical bone growth stimulation in lumbar fusion surgery, and the few studies that are available have problems with how they were designed.

Dr. Kaiser, who was the lead author for this section, closes the chapter by calling for more research on the subject. He makes specific suggestions for study design to help researchers gather the most useful information. For instance, he suggests that a “well-designed randomized controlled trial” would be well suited to study one type of bone growth stimulation, called PEMFS.

He also suggests that a “prospective patient registry” could help identify specific patient groups that might benefit most from this type of bone growth stimulation. This information would prove valuable in helping physicians and patients make the best-informed decisions about their care.

Read more about the overall study here. And for a contrast with this chapter—which reflects the lack of new information since 2005–read here about Dr. Kaiser’s work on the chapter that has changed most radically since 2005.

Find out more about Dr. Kaiser on his bio page here.


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