What is a Bone Marrow Harvest?

Erin J. Hill

A bone marrow harvest refers to the act of collecting healthy bone marrow from a donor to be used for a patient or to be stored for use when a match is found. The procedure is done by inserting a very large needle into the hip bone in order to collect the marrow. Bone marrow is soft and spongy in nature, and is found in the center of bones. Within the marrow, blood is produced and stem cells are formed to later mature into various bodily cells.

A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing the bone marrow.
A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing the bone marrow.

Donors may sign up for a bone marrow harvest for many reasons. One may be to save healthy bone marrow for themselves in case they get sick in the future. Others give bone marrow to help an ill relative, usually a brother or sister, or to donate to a bone marrow registry to be used by whoever happens to be a match. The procedure itself can be painful, although general anesthesia will be provided.

A large needle is inserted into the hip bone in a bone marrow harvest.
A large needle is inserted into the hip bone in a bone marrow harvest.

Before a bone marrow harvest can be performed, multiple tests must be run to ensure that the donor is healthy enough to be given anesthesia. These can include a urinalysis, physical, electrocardiogram, and bloodwork. Once these things have checked out fine, the donor can be moved into an operating room to undergo the procedure.

When a bone marrow harvest is being done, the donor is placed on his or her stomach. The needle is injected into each side of the rear hip bone in three or four different locations to ensure that rich marrow is extracted. Puncture wounds will not be visible from the outside, although there may be mark on the bones if viewed with an X-ray. Roughly 5 grams of bone marrow is generally taken, or roughly 5 percent of total marrow.

Red blood cells are also taken during a bone marrow harvest to use in the donor’s IV as he or she is moved into recovery. Bandages are generally placed over the needle marks to protect them from infection, although infection is rare. The entire procedure generally takes about one hour, although the exact time may vary from patient to patient.

Once a bone marrow harvest is complete, the bone marrow is filtered and either frozen or given to the recipient the same day. Donors may feel tired and weak due to loss of red blood cells. These cells will be separated from the donated marrow and given back to the donor intravenously. Most donors do not have to stay in the hospital overnight.

Before a bone marrow harvest can be performed, a urinalysis must be run.
Before a bone marrow harvest can be performed, a urinalysis must be run.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


My cousin had to have a bone marrow transplant and said the actual transplant process was no big deal. Essentially, the patient gets the bone marrow via IV. Her sister was her donor and she said it was much more difficult for her sister to give the bone marrow since she was very, very sore and couldn't get around very well for several days.

It's the preparation to receive the transplant that's so brutal, with heavy chemotherapy and full body radiation to kill all the original bone marrow. My cousin was in complete isolation for about six weeks, until the doctors determined her sister's bone marrow had thoroughly established itself.


A former co-worker of mine got on the bone marrow donor registry and was asked to donate several years ago. She did and said she was out of work for about a week after the harvesting procedure. She said she was extremely sore, but very grateful she was able to donate.

Her marrow went to a little girl with leukemia, if I remember correctly. My friend also had a little girl and was glad she could help someone who needed it.

She met the recipient a year or two later. The girl was doing well and my friend was thrilled to meet her.

Post your comments
Forgot password?