Bone grafts

What is bone graft?

A basic part of any spinal fusion is the bone graft. Bone grafting is used for many types of orthopedic procedures that require bones to heal. Bone grafting is used in two main ways during orthopedic procedures: bone healing and bone support.

Bone healing

The most common use of bone graft is to stimulate the healing of bone. The bone graft is used like “fertilizer” to stimulate and speed the bone healing process. Bone tissue that is crushed into powder and placed around a fracture or a fusion site has chemicals in it that stimulate the nearby bones to heal. If the bone is taken from the person’s own body (known as an “autograft”), there may also be osteocytes (living bone cells) that survive being transferred to the new location and continue to do their work of making new bone.

Bone support

Bone graft is also used for structural support. Rather than crush the bone into fine pieces, larger pieces of bone are used to fill a gap between two bones. For example, if the surgeon removes a vertebra or disc, he may place a chunk of bone graft into space. Because bone is rigid, it will hold the bones apart while the body grows to the ends of the graft. Over time the entire piece of bone that was grafted will be “remodeled” and replaced by the body with new bone.


As mentioned, the bone graft is a basic part of any spinal fusion surgery. Additionally, joint fusion surgery, fractures, injuries to the foot, ankle or cartilage, tendon transfer surgery, and replantation surgery may also require bone grafts.

How bone grafts work

Bone grafts vary depending on the surgical goals. For example, if the goal is to stimulate healing, crushed bone tissue is placed around a fracture of fusion site, which helps stimulate healing in the nearby bones. If the goal is to provide support, larger of pieces of bone (instead of crushed bone) are used to fill the gaps between bones.

Allograft vs autograft

The most common types of bone grafts are allografts and autografts. An allograft uses bone from a deceased donor or a cadaver that has been cleaned and stored in a tissue bank, whereas an autograft comes from a bone inside your body, such as your ribs, hips, pelvis, or wrist.

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