Right from the beginning when I first met my neurosurgeon, he told me that I would require a “bone stimulator” so that my fractures sites would heal properly this time. In medical terms:

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Note: PEMF means pulsed electromagnetic field.

Since I had no idea what a bone stimulator even was, my neurosurgeon explained that it is a device that, in a nutshell, pulses an electromagnetic field to help bones grow. The bone stimulator was to supplement my second neck surgery to help enhance my body’s bone healing process for a successful fusion. This successful fusion (i.e., from the C5 to C6 to C7 vertebral levels) is my end goal in all of thisI was directed to a chiropractor to buy it for the low, low price of $5,450 (plus $110 for the chiropractor’s time) and began using it 11 days post-op.

An estimated six million fractures occur every year in the United States (I couldn’t find similar information in Canada), with approximately 5% or 300,000 becoming nonunions. Lucky me, right? Because fracture healing is a complex metabolic process requiring the interaction of many factors, there are various reasons as to why nonunions develop. These include inadequate immobilization (as in my case – as the flimsy wire from the first surgery didn’t offer much stability for the fractures), a large fracture gap, misaligned fracture ends, infection, and inadequate vascular resources. Generally, a nonunion is established when a fracture site shows no visible progressive signs of healing after three months. Again in my case, very little healing actually occurred while I wore the halo brace, even though I was initially led to believe that I had already healed substantially.

The cost of a nonunion has been estimated between $23,000 to $58,000, including initial surgery with grafting, frequent office visits, patient quality of life, and opportunity cost of missed work. For me it wasn’t so much of a cost issue as I had emergency travel insurance which covered most of my costs in the US, provincial health care in Canada, and disability insurance from my employer, but the course of my life definitely took quite the turn with my nonunion. I thought my broken neck would be in a brace for “only” five months but the nonunion extended it by another two months (hopefully…).

Over 50 years ago medical professionals discovered that low-level electrical fields stimulate the body’s bone healing process. Supported by scientific and clinical research, advances have included finding different types of energy that stimulate bone growth, electromagnetic coil technology, and simply better devices that have improved bone healing in patients who undergo spinal fusion. There are various types of bone growth stimulators out there (differing in the type of electrical current or magnetic field generated by the device and how stimulation is transmitted to the spine). Mine happens to be one that employs an external pulsed electromagnetic field. I had no choice in the matter, it was just the one that was given to me. Most studies on bone stimulators I’ve read involved long bone fractures (e.g., tibia) but I did find accounts of post-ACDF surgery use too.

I won’t even attempt to explain how my bone stimulator really works but I will direct you to a video that explains it quite well (scroll down for the video).

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I lay my neck on it for 30 minutes a day at the same time every day (as explained in the video, cell division usually occurs every 24 hours so the cells would be stimulated every 24 hours as well). As I lay in bed I cannot have any electronic devices near me as the EMF signal will disrupt their own signals. I don’t feel anything though. I use this time to relax, read a book, or do French homework every night at 9:30 pm on the dot. I should not (or cannot, rather) interrupt the session by going to the bathroom, getting up, etc. during these 30 minutes.

Here’s someone else with a similar bone stimulator. I don’t sit but lay in bed when I use mine though.

My neurosurgeon told me that I would need to do this for the next nine months. Wah. At least it’s only for 30 minutes a day and the time really does pass by. In fact, the shortest wear time available is really 30 minutes – I was told that older models had wear times of up to three hours! The only inconvenience of this device is that it is uncomfortable to lay your neck it. (I don’t use a pillow as it would be even more uncomfortable.) I have been changing the nine-volt batteries every two weeks, but the bone stimulator came with around twelve.

More information about my particular bone stimulator here.


Sources:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/778366_2

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762251/

http://www.spineuniverse.com/resource-center/bone-growth-stimulation/patient-guide-bone-growth-stimulation

http://www.highparkphysiotherapy.com/products/bone_growth_stimulation.html

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