Electrical Stimulation for Faster Bone Healing

Can Electric Stimulation Accelerate Fracture Healing?

electric stim
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Bone healing after a fracture is a time consuming process and rarely can result in a lack of full healing, a problem called a nonunion.  In an effort to get back to activity as quickly as possible, some doctors have experimented with different techniques to speed bone healing.  One of these methods that has been attempted is with electric stimulation of the healing bone.

Electric Stimulation of Healing Bone

In most cases of fracture healing, electrical simulation is performed through a process called capacitive coupling.

In this process, two skin electrodes are placed on either side of the broken bone, and a low voltage battery passes a small current between the electrodes. The patient cannot feel the current, but it does have an effect on the bone cells.

The most notable effect is that this type of electrical stimulation seems to cause bone cells to proliferate. There are other cellular effects of electrical currents on the broken bone, but by stimulating bone cells to divide, healing of bone is accelerated. The skin electrodes are worn at all times, and the battery is changed regularly.

Faster Bone Growth?

Bone healing from capacitive coupling has been shown to be faster in patients who have nonunions (non-healing bones) or patients who have difficult to heal fractures, such as scaphoid fractures. Electrical stimulation has not been shown to be helpful in uncomplicated fracture healing.

Bottom Line

Electrical stimulation is a reasonable option for patients who have bone healing problems, or fractures that have poor healing potential.

It is probably not helpful in healing of most fractures.

Sources:

Nelson, FR, et al. "Use of Physical Forces in Bone Healing" J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., September/October 2003; 11: 344 - 354.

Behrens SB, et al. "A Review of Bone Growth Stimulation for Fracture Treatment" Curr Orthop Pract. 2013;24(1):84-91.

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