It is possible to speed up bone healing using electromagnetic or ultrasound machines. However, neither of these techniques are funded by the NHS, so you need to be clear about the benefits to your particular case and that you can afford to fund the treatment.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) devices are sometimes called by their manufacturers' names, such as PhysioStim and Orthofix. Low Frequency Ultrasound Devices (LFUD), sometimes known as Exogen machines, are supplied by Smith & Nephew
There is also evidence from studies on animals that injectable growth agents such as Bone Morphogenetic Proteins or BMPs help bone to heal, but these are only licensed to be used for non-unions.
Each PEMF and LFUD machine costs around £1,000 and can only be used for one patient. We ask patients who we treat at King's College Hospital if they want to buy one of these machines.
The machines seem to have about a 70% success rate in healing non-unions over three months, but the research data in this area is still relatively poor. They do, however, accelerate fracture healing, but at this price, it is not usually worth it to save one month off the healing time. We do not know if these devices will prevent fractures going on to non-union if used early. We also do not yet know the effect of combining these techniques.
External stimulation of fractures, by PEMF or LFUD, has been shown to be effective in some cases, as they may avoid the need for surgery altogether. It simply involves the patient wearing a lightweight, painless device for a small part of each day.
BMPs avoid the pain and disability inflicted by the site from which bone graft is harvested (commonly the iliac crest of the pelvis) and may improve healing rates for fractures.