A retrospective study of iliac crest bone grafting techniques with allograft reconstruction: do patients even know which iliac crest was harvested?

Clinical article

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  • 1 Departments of Neurosurgery and
  • | 2 Neuroscience, Mayo Clinic;
  • | 3 St. Vincent's Brain and Spine Institute;
  • | 4 Mayo School of Health Sciences, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Florida, Jacksonville, Florida; and
  • | 5 College of Science, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
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Object

Considerable biological research has been performed to aid bone healing in conjunction with lumbar fusion surgery. Iliac crest autograft is often considered the gold standard because it has the vital properties of being osteoconductive, osteoinductive, and osteogenic. However, graft site pain has been widely reported as the most common donor site morbidity. Autograft site pain has led many companies to develop an abundance of bone graft extenders, which have limited proof of efficacy. During the surgical consent process, many patients ask surgeons to avoid harvesting autograft because of the reported pain complications. The authors sought to study postoperative graft site pain by simply asking patients whether they knew which iliac crest was grafted when a single skin incision was made for the fusion operation.

Methods

Twenty-five patients underwent iliac crest autografting with allograft reconstruction during instrumented lumbar fusion surgery. In all patients the autograft was harvested through the same skin incision but with a separate fascial incision. At various points postoperatively, the patients were asked if they could tell which iliac crest had been harvested, and if so, how much pain did it cause (10-point Numeric Rating Scale).

Results

Most patients (64%) could not correctly determine which iliac crest had been harvested. Of the 9 patients who correctly identified the side of the autograft, 7 were only able to guess. The 2 patients who confidently identified the side of grafting had no pain at rest and mild pain with activity. One patient who incorrectly guessed the side of autografting did have significant sacroiliac joint degenerative pain bilaterally.

Conclusions

Results of this study indicate the inability of patients to clearly define their graft site after iliac crest autograft harvest with allograft reconstruction of the bony defect unless they have a separate skin incision. This simple, easily reproducible pilot study can be expanded into a larger, multiinstitutional investigation to provide more definitive answers regarding the ideal, safe, and cost-effective bone graft material to be used in spinal fusions.

Abbreviation used in this paper:

NRS = Numeric Rating Scale.

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