A bone growth stimulator is an external device that sends pulses of electromagnetic frequencies to stimulate the production of the proteins and growth factors needed to heal bones. The bone growth stimulator is about the size of a TV remote and has a wire that goes to a pad shaped to fit over the fracture area. The pad is held in place with a Velcro strap. The device is used for approximately four hours a day until the fracture is healed.
Chronic SCI often leads to long bone fractures of the lower extremities, which are often the result of a “low energy insult,” such as a fall out the chair while wheeling or a failed transfer. When a bone breaks, the body sends out a low-level electrical field that signals the immune system to deliver healing materials to the area of the fracture.
Lower extremity fractures have a significantly higher rate of delayed union for people with SCI, meaning the fracture takes longer to heal or fails to heal if proper care is not taken.
"People with a complete SCI injury loses an average of 28% of the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in their legs within the first year and a half of their injury. By two years post-injury, BMD decline slows to a loss of 1% a year. After 20 years, the legs of the average person with SCI have lost 46% BMD. This is close to the “fracture breakpoint” of 50% of BMD loss, after which a simple twist or fall is likely to break a bone," Dr Patrick Smith explained.
Bone growth stimulators have been used for the healing of non-union fractures for a very long time and it is covered by Medicare since 1999. Remember that, like many specialists, orthopedists may not have experience in treating people with SCI, so it benefits you to know treatment options.