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What are Bone Screws?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bone screws are specialized screws designed for use in orthopedic surgery. These screws are made from nonreactive materials which can be safely used inside a patient's body, and they are, as the name would imply, driven through the bone with the assistance of specialized tools. There are a number of settings in which screws are used, and a range of sizes are available from companies which make medical devices, although in some regions, the sale of bone screws is restricted to medical professionals.

One of the classic reasons to use these screws is in the stabilization of a fracture. If a bone is so badly fractured that it will not heal if it is put in a cast, screws are used to pull the pieces of the bone together and to stabilize them before a cast is applied. With the bone screws in place, the bone should knit properly and as cleanly as possible. Once the healing is over, the screws may be left in place or removed in another procedure.

Bone screws are also used to place external fixators, medical devices used in the treatment of fractures and some other medical issues. The screws anchor the fixator to the bone, allowing the fixator to be snugly held in place. Because most people do not want to spend the rest of their lives with hardware protruding from their bodies, the screws and fixator are generally removed once the healing process is complete.

Screws are also sometimes used in the placement of medical implants, including implants such as rods which are used to stabilize the spine. While orthopedic surgeons are the surgical professionals who most commonly use bone screws, other types of surgeons can place them as well if they deem it necessary for patient care. Neurosurgeons, for example, sometimes use screws in their work.

The materials used to make bone screws are designed to be inert, so that they will not react with the patient's body and cause irritation. Many screws are also made from metals which can be safely taken through metal detectors, so that patients will not experience inconvenience as a result of their medical implants.

People who have bone screws in place or who have had screws removed should make sure to mention this before undergoing medical imaging studies. In some cases, a study may not be advised with screws in place, and in others, they may create artifacts on the image which cause confusion.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon330189 — On Apr 15, 2013

My husband broke his tibia and fibula and the doctor put in two different plates and some screws. That was six months ago and we went to the doctor and he tells us that they need to re-do the surgery because the screws broke and his leg is no longer healing straight. He is now in a lot of pain again and has to go through all of this all over again.

Why would this happen and how often does this happen, that the screws break inside someone's body with procedures like this one?

By anon312040 — On Jan 04, 2013

I had a major hand injury that required a bone graft. A long titanium plate with six small screws spanning across the third metacarpal along with a large screw in the base of the metacarpal was required for stabilization.

After three months, the bone graft healed and the plate and small screws were removed. The large screw was left in as removing it would be counter-productive as it is now surrounded by bone growth. That was two and a half weeks before this post. There are holes in the bone where the small screws were located, but they will fill in soon. Material used was titanium. They let me keep the hardware that was removed.

By anon218998 — On Oct 01, 2011

I had screws put in my femur in 1956. I have an MRI pending because I have been unable to find out what the screws were made of that are in my leg.

By anon196421 — On Jul 14, 2011

Screws used in trauma surgery are usually stainless. Many screw constructs used in spinal surgery are titanium, as it is more transparent in x-rays/MRI's, but they do make stainless as well for the spine.

Problem is if they use stainless screws, they also need to use stainless rods/plates in the construct and the same for titanium. The two materials can't be mixed and matched in the body, unless you want to get serious corrosion and construct failures.

By Emilski — On Jun 28, 2011

@stl156 - From what I know, one of the most common materials used for bone screws is titanium. My guess is that stainless steel could be used, but I don't know if that would be strong enough. It may all depend on what kind of stress is going to be put on the bone.

I found myself wondering what happens after the screws are taken out. Does the surgeon take out the screws and then you are left with a hole in your bone? Does the hole in the bone ever heal?

By stl156 — On Jun 27, 2011

What kind of metals are used in a bone screw? The article says inert metals, so I would assume that doesn't mean things like steel, since that can rust.

I think that screws are common in knee surgeries. I've known several people that have had their knees repaired, and they always mention screws.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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