While most broken bones heal on their own, there are some situations where it’s hard for a fracture to heal, and sometimes the bone doesn’t heal at all (nonunion). A device called a bone growth stimulator can help if the break is in an area with little stability or poor blood flow.
The goal of a bone stimulator is to activate a series of receptors in your body to encourage your healing response. The stimulator does this by sending a pulsed electromagnetic or ultrasonic signal to the fracture site. This signals the bone to create new bone tissue to connect the two ends of the broken bone together. This process is like a cascade, with one signal prompting another and so on until the fracture heals.
Electrical bone stimulators are a common treatment, and are usually used in combination with other methods to promote fracture healing. One method, known as ultrasound stimulation, involves applying a coupling gel to the skin over the fracture site and letting a device transmit an ultrasound wave that pressures the bone and stimulates it.
For most bone stimulators to work, you need to wear it every day for a certain number of hours, depending on the device your doctor prescribes. Older devices required that you treat for eight to 24 hours a day, but advances in the technology of bone growth stimulators mean that you can reduce your treatment time to only two or three hours a day with a SpinalStim or PhysioStim device.