Osseointegration helps amputees regain mobility and function

Osseointegration helps amputees regain mobility and function

Each year, about 185,000 people lose a limb to disease or trauma, and a staggering 3.6 million Americans will be living without an arm or leg by 2050, according to the Amputee Coalition.

Losing a limb poses tremendous emotional and physical challenges. Regaining mobility and function is critical for these patients to recover and get their lives back on track.

However, most amputees use prostheses that are held by hand in a way that causes skin irritation and frequent slippage of the prosthesis, according to Dr. John Abraham, director of orthopedic oncology at Capital Health in Mercer County. Manually placed prostheses are also difficult to maneuver and require a lot of energy to walk and climb stairs.

Now amputees have a better option ⁠— osseointegrationwhich essentially means fusing bone and metal.

The osseointegration procedure not only makes placement of the prosthesis easier, it also helps patients much better than a standard socket prosthesis. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

With USDA approval last December, the procedure is slowly becoming available to more amputees. It involves inserting a metal rod into the bone and then allowing it to heal so that the bone turns into metal, Abraham explained. In a second operation, surgeons connect a shaft to the screw now buried in the bone. The prosthesis is attached to that rod.

“Osseointegration provides a direct connection of the prosthesis to the bone,” explained Abraham. “It’s a breakthrough. It gets rid of the socket and all the problems associated with it. It is less wear of the skin, facilitates the placement of the prosthesis. But the main benefit is that patients walk much better. They can go up and down stairs and ramps much better than with a regular socket prosthesis.”

While the use of osseointegration for amputees is new to the United States, the procedure has been used for years in dental implants, an increasingly popular option for people coping with tooth loss, said Dr. Robert M. Bagoff, co-director of the Chivian Dental Health Center along with Dr. Barry D. Wagenberg, and director emeritus of the Division of Restorative Dentistry at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Osseointegration has been used for years in dental implants, an increasingly popular option for people dealing with tooth loss. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

“Implants changed the treatment that’s available to people,” Bagoff said, adding that more than a quarter of Americans over the age of 65 have significant tooth loss. “When someone loses a tooth, they can leave it alone, but many patients want to replace it for function and aesthetics.”

Implants are far superior to bridges and dentures, function like natural teeth and last for decades.

“Millions of implants have been placed in the US and around the world since the early 1980s,” said Bagoff, who oversees a residency program that teaches general practitioners how to perform implant surgeries.

Osseointegration involves inserting a metal rod into the bone and then connecting a shaft to the screw now buried in the bone. The prosthesis is attached to that rod. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

This bodes well for amputees. A small group of surgeons are currently performing osseointegration for amputees as more doctors are being trained, according to Abraham, who is currently the only approved doctor in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania who can offer the procedure to amputees.

“If a person has a traditional amputation socket that they’re struggling with, it’s worth getting evaluated,” Abraham said. “Patients who have had it done say it is worth the effort. They have a lifetime of a well-functioning prosthesis. This is far superior to what we have now.”

Nancy Parello writes frequently for NJ Advance Media/Jersey’s Best. A former state reporter, she previously worked for the Associated Press and The Record.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.

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