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Aetna Aetna
Clinical Policy Bulletin:
Bone Growth Stimulators
Number: 0343


  1. Ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator

    1. Aetna considers the use of an ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator (e.g., an ultrasonic accelerated fracture healing device) medically necessary durable medical equipment (DME) to accelerate healing of fresh fractures, fusions, or delayed unions at either of the following high-risk sites:

      1. Fresh fractures, fusions, or delayed unions of the shaft (diaphysis) of the tibia that are open or segmental; or
      2. Fresh fractures, fusions, or delayed unions of the scaphoid (carpal navicular).

        This system uses pulsed ultrasound to speed healing.  Fractures on these sites are difficult to heal because of poor vascular supply. 

    2. Aetna considers an ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator medically necessary for non-unions, failed arthrodesis, and congenital pseudarthrosis (pseudoarthrosis) of the appendicular skeleton if there has been no progression of healing for 3 or more months despite appropriate fracture care.
    3. Aetna considers an ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator experimental and investigational for fractures, failed fusions, or non-unions of the axial skeleton (skull and vertebrae) because the effectiveness of SAFHS in these fractures has not been determined.
    4. Aetna considers an ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator experimental and investigational for all other indications, including avascular necrosis of the femoral head, calcaneal apophysitis (Sever disease), Charcot arthropathy, Jones (5th metatarsal) fracture, pathological fractures due to malignancy (unless the neoplasm is in remission), stress fractures, and talar dome lesion following osteochondral autograft transfer system (OATS) because the medical literature does not support its use for these indications.
  2. Electrical stimulation

    Aetna considers direct current electrical bone-growth stimulators, as well as inductive coupling or capacitive coupling non-invasive electrical stimulators medically necessary for any of the following indications:

    1. Delayed unions of fractures or failed arthrodesis at high-risk sites (i.e., open or segmental tibial fractures, carpal navicular fractures), or
    2. Non-unions, failed fusions, and congenital pseudarthrosis where there is no evidence of progression of healing for 3 or more months despite appropriate fracture care, or
    3. Members who are at high-risk for spinal fusion failure when any of the following criteria is met:

      1. A multiple level fusion entailing 3 or more vertebrae (e.g., L3 to L5, L4 to S1, etc.), or
      2. Grade II or worse spondylolisthesis, or
      3. One or more failed fusions.

Aetna considers electrical bone-growth stimulators experimental and investigational for all other indications, including the treatment of avascular necrosis of the hip, Charcot arthropathy, Charcot foot, fractures of the scapula or pelvis, loosened knee prosthesis, lunate fractures, odontoid fractures, sacroiliac fusion, spondylolysis (also known as pars inter-articularis fracture), and stress fractures (not an all inclusive list) because of a lack of adequate evidence of their effectiveness for these conditions.

    III. Semi-Invasive Bone Growth Stimulators

Aetna considers semi-invasive bone growth stimulators experimental and investigational for all indications including treatment of orthopedic and neurosurgical conditions (e.g., delayed unions, failed spinal fusions, fracture nonunions, fresh fractures, and pseudoarthroses) because of a lack of adequate evidence of their effectiveness.

See also CPB 0175 - High-Frequency Pulsed Electromagnetic Stimulation.


An electrical osteogenesis stimulator is a device that provides electrical stimulation to augment bone repair. A noninvasive electrical stimulator is characterized by an external power source which is attached to a coil or electrodes placed on the skin or on a cast or brace over a fracture or fusion site.

An ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator is a noninvasive device that emits low intensity, pulsed ultrasound. The ultrasound signal is applied to the skin surface at the fracture location via ultrasound conductive coupling gel in order to stimulate fracture healing.

Ultrasonic Osteogenesis Stimulators for Fresh Fractures

When applied over a fracture site, an ultrasonic accelerated fracture healing device produces an ultrasonic wave, which delivers mechanical pressure to the bone tissue at the fracture site.  Although the mechanism by which the low-intensity pulsed ultrasound device accelerates bone healing is uncertain, it is thought to promote bone formation in a manner comparable to bone responses to mechanical stress.

In October 1994, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the SAFHS, manufactured by Exogen, Inc. (West Caldwell, NJ), to accelerate the healing of new bone fractures in the tibial diaphysis and Colles' fractures of the distal radius in adults.  The FDA approval of the device was based in part on its review of 2 multi-center randomized controlled trials of the device on tibial diaphyseal fractures and distal radius (Colles') fractures.

SAFHS low-intensity pulsed ultrasound has been demonstrated to significantly accelerate the time to clinical healing of fractures of the tibial diaphysis.  Although SAFHS low-intensity pulsed ultrasound has been demonstrated to accelerate the time to radiologic healing of fresh closed Colles' (wrist) fractures, it has not been shown to significantly reduce the time to clinical healing of these fractures.

SAFHS is most likely to result in clinically significant benefits when applied to fresh fractures with poor vascularity that are slow to heal and at high risk of non-union.  Tibial fractures that are open or segmental are notorious for prolonged healing and a high incidence of delayed union and non-union.  Fractures of the scaphoid (carpal navicular) are uncommon, but when they occur, they are at high-risk of delayed union and non-union.  Hence, use of SAFHS may be particularly helpful in patients with these fractures.

Ultrasonic bone growth stimulation has also been studied for accelerating healing of stress fractures.  In a prospective, randomized, double-blind clinical trial, Rue et al (2004) ascertained if pulsed ultrasound reduces tibial stress fracture healing time.  A total of 26 midshipmen (43 tibial stress fractures) were randomized to receive pulsed ultrasound or placebo treatment.  Twenty-minute daily treatments continued until patients were asymptomatic with signs of healing on plain radiographs.  The groups were not significantly different in demographics, delay from symptom onset to diagnosis, missed treatment days, total number of treatments, or time to return to duty.  Findings of this study demonstrated that pulsed ultrasound did not significantly reduce the healing time for tibial stress fractures.  Furthermore, Zura and colleagues (2007) surveyed the attitudes of members of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) concerning the use and effectiveness of bone growth stimulators.  A questionnaire regarding bone growth stimulators was sent to the active members of the OTA.  Descriptive statistics was performed using frequencies and percentages.  All analyses were performed using Stata for Linux, version 8.0 (Intercooled Stata, Stata Corporation; College Station, TX).  A response rate of 43 % was obtained.  Respondents indicated that they only occasionally used bone stimulators for the treatment of acute fractures and stress fractures.  A majority of respondents have utilized stimulators for the treatment of delayed unions and non-unions.  The authors concluded that many members of the OTA utilize bone stimulators for delayed unions and non-unions, but not routinely for the treatment of acute fractures or stress fractures.

Watanaba and colleagues (2010) stated that low-intensity pulsed ultrasound is a relatively new technique for the acceleration of fracture healing in fresh fractures and non-unions.  It has a frequency of 1.5 MHz, a signal burst width of 200 micros, a signal repetition frequency of 1 kHz, and an intensity of 30 mW/cm2.  In 1994 and 1997, 2 milestone double-blind randomized controlled trials revealed the benefits of pulsed ultrasound for the acceleration of fracture healing in the tibia and radius.  They showed that pulsed ultrasound accelerated the fracture healing rate from 24 % to 42 % for fresh fractures.  Some literature, however, has shown no positive effects.  The beneficial effect of acceleration of fracture healing by pulsed ultrasound is considered to be larger in the group of patients or fractures with potentially negative factors for fracture healing.  The incidence of delayed union and non-union is 5 % to 10 % of all fractures.  For delayed union and non-union, the overall success rate of pulsed ultrasound therapy is approximately 67 % (humerus), 90 % (radius/radius-ulna), 82 % (femur), and 87 % (tibia/tibia-fibula).  The authors noted that pulsed ultrasound likely has the ability to enhance maturation of the callus in distraction osteogenesis and reduce the healing index.  They concluded that the critical role of pulsed ultrasound for fracture healing is still unknown because of the heterogeneity of results in clinical trials for fresh fractures and the lack of controlled trials for delayed unions and non-unions.

An UpToDate review on “Proximal fifth metatarsal fractures” (Alsobrook and Hatch, 2013) states that “After three months of persistent nonunion without evidence of callus formation, some clinicians use external bone stimulators in hopes of promoting healing, but there are no controlled studies demonstrating the effectiveness of these devices”.

Ultrasound Osteogenesis Stimulators for Nonunions

SAFHS low-intensity pulsed ultrasound was approved by the FDA in February 2000 for the treatment of established non-unions, excluding the skull and vertebrae.  The FDA approval of the device was based on a review of retrospective studies of 79 patients with non-unions treated with SAFHS.  Patients with pathologic fractures due to malignancy were excluded from these studies.  Of the 74 completed cases, 86 % healed both radiographically and clinically and 14 % were failures of SAFHS treatment.  The mean time to a healed fracture was 5½ months.

Other evidence of the effectiveness of SAFHS for non-unions include a registry of prescription use of SAFHS for non-unions in the United States, which showed a heal rate of 82 % of 429 completed cases, and a retrospective study of non-unions which showed a heal rate of 90 % of 30 completed cases.

Medicare allows ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulators only if all of the following criteria are met: 1) nonunion of a fracture documented by a minimum of two sets of radiographs obtained prior to starting treatment with the osteogenic stimulator, separated by a minimum of 90 days; and 2) the fracture is not of the skull or vertebrae; and 3) the fracture is not tumor related. Medicare requires that each radiograph set include multiple views of the fracture site accompanied by a written interpretation by a physician stating that there has been no clinically significant evidence of fracture healing between the two sets of radiographs. Medicare considers not medically necessary use of an ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator with other noninvasive osteogenesis stimulators.

Electrical Stimulation for Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is a general term which describes the surgical results of a procedure designed to eliminate motion across a spinal segment.  All fusions involve the placement of a bone graft across the spinal segment with or without a wide variety of internal fixators and techniques for postoperative immobilization.

There are 3 general indications for spinal fusion: (i) to restore the integrity of the spine, to replace bone deficits, i.e., in fracture, tumor, infection; (ii) to maintain the correction of spinal deformity or prevent the progression of deformity, i.e. scoliosis; and (iii) to produce an arthrodesis to suppress painful instability.  The correction of painful instabilities probably the most common and controversial indication for fusion.  The controversy centers around the treatment of low back pain and whether laminectomy and discectomy should be accompanied by a fusion.  This is in turn related to whether instability itself is contributing to the low back pain or whether the surgical procedure, for example, discectomy and laminectomy, will produce an iatrogenic instability.  Because of the potential for failed fusion, electrical stimulation techniques have been investigated as a method to improve the chances for a successful fusion.

Two general types of electrical stimulation devices are available for spinal fusion.  An implantable device (e.g., SpF-2) uses direct current to stimulate osteogenesis.  The implantable device consists of a battery pack which provides direct current over four cathodes.  The device is implanted during the fusion procedure; the cathodes are implanted at the fusion site while the battery pack is implanted just beneath the dorsal fascia or in the soft tissue above the iliac crest.  An external device (e.g., Spinal Stim) uses pulsating electromagnetic energy to induce weak electrical currents in the underlying tissue.  The external electrical stimulation device consists of the magnetic coils incorporated into a corset like device which the patient wears 8 to 10 hours per day, usually while sleeping.  The external device can either be used immediately after surgery, or only when fusion failure becomes apparent.

There have been several clinical studies on either device.  In a randomized prospective controlled trial of the implanted electrical stimulation device in difficult spinal fusion patients, subjects were randomized to undergo a spinal fusion procedure either with or without simultaneous implantation of an electrical stimulation device.  At 18 month post- surgery, successful fusion was achieved in 54 % of the control group and 81 % of the treatment group (Kane, 1988).

In a randomized double blind prospective study of an external electrical stimulation device, 195 patients were randomized to receive either a functioning or nonfunctioning brace following surgery (Mooney, 1990).  A total of 40 % of patients were non-compliant.  In those compliant patients who received an active brace, the fusion success rate was 92.2 % versus a success rate of 67.9 % of the compliant patients in the control group.

In a retrospective, case-controlled, pilot study, Welch and colleagues (2004) examined the safety and effectiveness of an implantable direct current bone growth stimulator (IDCBGS) as an adjunct to cervical arthrodesis in patients at high risk for non-union after undergoing cervical fusion in region from the occiput to C3.  A total of 20 patients underwent para-axial cervical arthrodesis for the correction of instability.  All were at high-risk for non-union due to advanced age, rheumatoid arthritis, prior failed fusion attempts, infection, or immunosuppressive drug use.  An IDCBGS was used to augment the surgical procedure.  The mean follow-up period was 19 months, and 16 patients were available for follow-up.  Radiographical evidence of fusion was demonstrated in 15 of 16 patients (94 %).  After surgery, all patients demonstrated clinical stabilization, a resolution of symptoms in combination with an improvement in neurological status, or both.  The mean elapsed time before fusion occurred was 4.6 months.  No neurological complications related to cathode or generator placement were observed.  The use of the stimulator as an adjunct to instrument- or non-instrument-assisted surgical fusion of the para-axial region in these high-risk patients appeared both safe and effective.  The authors concluded that further investigation is needed to define the possible role and clinical utility of the IDCBGS in selected patients requiring cervical fusion, particularly those at high-risk for non-union.

Aetna's policy on electrical stimulation for spine fusion is supported by current Medicare policy, which allows electrical stimulation for spine fusion for the following indications: 1) failed spinal fusion where a minimum of nine months has elapsed since the last surgery; or 2) following a multilevel spinal fusion surgery; or 3) following spinal fusion surgery where there is a history of a previously failed spinal fusion at the same site. Medicare notes that a multilevel spinal fusion is one which involves 3 or more vertebrae (e.g., L3-L5, L4-S1, etc).

Electrical Stimulation for Nonunion

In nonunion, or interrupted bone healing, the normal process of calcification fails to take place.  The fracture gap remains occupied by cartilage and/or fibrous tissue and vascular penetration cannot proceed.  Factors predisposing to nonunion include infection, extensive comminution, inadequate blood supply, a large fracture gap, damage to surrounding muscles, and torsional or bending stresses.

Under a definition adopted by the FDA, a nonunion is established when at least 9 months have elapsed since injury and the fracture site shows no visibly progressive signs of healing for a minimum of three months.  Others have suggested that nonunion may be suspected as early as 3 months after fracture if fracture healing has failed to progress during that time.  It has been estimated that approximately 5 % of all long bone fractures will result in nonunion.

Electrical stimulation devices use low-energy electromagnetic fields to promote healing by creating weak electrical currents across the fracture site.  Weak electrical currents have been found to stimulate bone formation and calcification.  Physicians are not certain why it works, but many speculate that the currents stimulate osteocytes (bone cells) and may change the structure of the cell wall, enhancing bone union.

In 1979, the FDA approved electrical stimulation therapy devices for treatment of nonunion, congenital pseudarthrosis, and failed fusion.  A number of prospective studies, including controlled clinical trials, have demonstrated the effectiveness of electrical stimulation in nonunions of long bones.  These studies have primarily examined the effectiveness of electrical stimulation therapy in the treatment of nonunions of the tibia and femur.  The studies have defined healing endpoints both radiographically (as evidenced by cortical bridging on x-ray) and clinically (no pain or motion at fracture site).  There is evidence that electrical stimulation therapy is also effective in healing nonunions of other bones of the appendicular skeleton.

Electrical stimulation therapy has not, however, been adequately evaluated for treatment of nonunions of the flat bones, such as the pelvis, scapula, and skull.  Nor has electrical stimulation therapy been well evaluated for treatment of fractures of the ribs or sternum.

Electrical stimulation has been used as an adjunct or alternative to bone graft surgery in the treatment of nonunions.  In bone graft surgery, a section of bone taken from another skeletal site is used to bridge the ununited gap.  The major advantage of non-invasive electrical stimulation over bone graft surgery is that it minimizes the risk of infection and avoids the trauma of surgery.  Electrical stimulation therapy has also been shown to be an alternative to bone graft surgery in the conservative management of congenital pseudarthrosis, the absence at birth of the mid-portion of bone, and has been approved by the FDA for that purpose.

Three types of electrical stimulators were approved by the FDA in 1979 for treatment of nonunions and congenital pseudarthrosis: (i) invasive, (ii) semi-invasive, and (iii) non-invasive.  An invasive electrical stimulator that uses constant direct current is implanted at the nonunion site.  The major advantage of implantation is that the electrical therapy is provided constantly without the patient having to take an active role, so that compliance is not an issue.  The major disadvantage is that it requires 2 operations, one to implant the electrical device and one to remove the device.

A semi-invasive system which uses percutaneous cathodes that provide constant direct current is not currently in production.

Non-invasive electrical stimulator systems use inductive coupling or capacitive coupling.  With inductive coupling, pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) are delivered by a pair of external magnetic coils placed parallel to each other on top of the cast at the nonunion site.  Treatment times vary from 10 to 16 hours per day.  Because precise placement of the coils is necessary, the patient must remain relatively immobile during treatment.

With capacitive coupling, 2 electrodes are applied to the skin through windows cut through the cast, and are placed on either side of the nonunion site.  Because the system comes with a portable battery pack and no precise placement of the electrodes is necessary, the patient can remain relatively mobile.

Available evidence suggests that each of these systems gives comparable success rates of 80 to 90 % in properly selected patients.  There are no known side effects to treatment with electrical stimulation.

More recently, the FDA approved the OrthoLogic 1000, a non-invasive electrical stimulation device, for the treatment of nonunions (OrthoLogic Corp., Phoenix, AZ).  The OrthoLogic differs from standard non-invasive electrical stimulation therapy in that it uses both static and pulsating magnetic fields.  In addition, the OrthoLogic uses magnetic fields that are of lower energy (peak amplitude 400 milligauss) than standard PEMFs (peak amplitude greater than 20 gauss).  The chief advantage of the OrthoLogic device is that it needs to be worn only 30 mins per day, compared to 10 hrs per day with standard pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.

In nonunions and congenital pseudarthrosis treated with electrical stimulation therapy, progression of healing should be monitored both clinically and radiologically.  On x-ray, progression of healing is evidenced by the appearance of consolidated bone stress lines gradually bridging the fracture gap until continuity of the cortices occurs.  When cortical continuity is established and no motion exists at the treatment site, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy may be discontinued, generally within 3 to 6 months, and rarely more than 9 months after electrical stimulation therapy is initiated.

Electrical stimulation devices may be used in fractures where fixation devices, such as rods or pins, are already in place, if the fixation devices are non-magnetic.

Electrical stimulation therapy is effective in uniting previously open fractures as well as closed fractures.  Electrical stimulation therapy has also been found to be effective in healing nonunions that have persisted for many years.  Surgical intervention is necessary before electrical stimulation therapy where there is malalignment of the fractured bone.

Electrical stimulation therapy is generally not indicated where the fracture gaps are greater than 1 centimeter or where they are greater than half the diameter of the bone at the level of the nonunion.  This is because larger gaps do not contain enough responsive osteocytes to form bone when stimulated by electricity.

Electrical stimulation therapy is also generally not indicated where there is a synovial pseudarthrosis, or ''false joint'' -- a nonunion that has developed a membrane-lined fluid-filled cavity between the fracture fragments.  Poor results with electrical therapy occur unless the lining of the false joint is removed.  Nonunions with a large gap or synovial pseudarthrosis are thought to be better treated with bone grafting and internal fixation before electrical stimulation.

Electrical stimulation therapy is also contraindicated in persons with pacemakers.

The effects of electrical stimulation therapy on epiphyseal growth plates are not known, so that use of electrical stimulation therapy in children, who lack skeletal maturity, should be closely monitored.

Aetna's policy on non-spinal electrical stimulation is supported by Medicare policy, which allows non-spinal electrical stimulation for the following indications: 1) nonunion of a long bone fracture, defined as radiographic evidence that fracture healing has ceased for three or more months prior to starting treatment with the osteogenesis stimulator; or 2) failed fusion of a joint other than in the spine where a minimum of nine months has elapsed since the last surgery; or congenital pseudarthrosis. Medicare requires that nonunion of a long bone fracture be documented by a minimum of two sets of radiographs obtained prior to starting treatment with the osteogenesis stimulator, separated by a minimum of 90 days, each including multiple views of the fracture site, and with a written interpretation by a physician stating that there has been no clinically significant evidence of fracture healing between the two sets of radiographs. Medicare policy states that a long bone is limited to a clavicle, humerus, radius, ulna, femur, tibia, fibula, metacarpal, or metatarsal.

A decision memorandum from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reviewed the evidence for electrical stimulation for fracture healing and concluded: "Fracture nonunion is considered to exist only when serial radiographs have confirmed that fracture healing has ceased for three or more months prior to starting treatment with the electrical osteogenic stimulator. Serial radiographs must include a minimum of two sets of radiographs, each including multiple views of the fracture site, separated by a minimum of 90 days." The CMS decision memorandum (CMS, 1999) concluded that the quality and quantity of the evidence is not enough for CMS to make a positive determination on expanding coverage of electrical bone growth stimulators to nonunions other than for long bones.

Simonis, et al. (2003) reported on a prospective, randomized, double-blind study of the effectiveness of electyrical stimulation in tibial nonuions. The study included  34 consecutive patients with a tibial non-union met that met criteria for study inclusion. Each patient had an oblique fibular osteotomy, followed by a unilateral external fixator. Subjects were then randomly allocated one of two groups: group 1, the active group, received electrical stimulation from an active device; group 2, the control group, had an identical device but without any current passing through the active coils. Subjects were then followed up for 6 months and evaluated clinically and radiologically for bony union. The investigators noted that there was a chance imbalance in smoking between the two groups. The union rate in the subgroup that smoked was 75 percent (6/8) in the active group as compared to 46 percent (6/13) in the control group. Overall 24 out of the 34 patients progressed to union. The investigators reported a statistically significant positive association between tibial union and electrical stimulation (odds ratio 8, 95% CI: 1.5 to 41, p = 0.02). Out of 18, 16 (89 percent) in the active group showed bony union as compared to 8/16 (50 percent) in the control group. However, when the overall result was adjusted for smoking, the association was weaker and not statistically significant (odds ratio 5.4, 95% CI: 0.85–34, p = 0.07). The authors noted, however, that electrical stimulation in both smokers and non-smokers produced a higher rate of union
than in the control group. 

Electrical stimulation has been investigated as a treatment for Charcot arthropathy.  Hockenbury and associates (2007) reviewed the results of arthrodesis of the Charcot hindfoot when an implantable bone growth stimulator was added to the procedure.  Arthrodesis of the Charcot hindfoot has a high non-union and complication rate.  A total of 10 patients (aged 50 to 69 years) with Charcot neuroarthropathy of the ankle, hindfoot, or both had arthrodesis with use of rigid internal fixation and an implantable bone growth stimulator were included in the study.  There were 6 tibio-talo-calcaneal, 2 pantalar, and 2 tibio-calcaneal arthrodeses.  An intra-medullary nail was used in 9 patients and a blade plate was used in 1 patient.  All but 1 patient was diabetic.  Four of the 10 patients had pre-operative osteomyelitis or post-operative infection.  Another patient had purulent drainage, although cultures were negative.  Four patients had a pre-operative ulceration.  Five patients had a 2-stage procedure for debridement of infected bone, removal of hardware, and placement of antibiotic beads.  Autogenous bone graft from the distal fibula or proximal tibia was used in all patients.  One patient with a pre-operative osteomyelitis developed a stable ankle pseudarthrosis.  The other 9 patients fused at an average of 3.7 months after surgery for a fusion rate of 90 %.  There were 2 major complications and 8 minor complications.  There were no amputations.  All patients were ambulatory in a double upright brace or shoes for diabetic patients and were free of ulceration at the time of follow-up.  Average American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS) Ankle-Hindfoot score improved from 21 pre-operatively to 59 post-operatively.  The authors concluded that the adjunctive use of an implantable bone growth stimulator in conjunction with rigid internal fixation, autogenous bone grafting, and sound operative technique may enhance the outcome and fusion rate in patients undergoing arthrodesis for Charcot neuroarthropathy of the ankle and hindfoot.  The findings of this study need to be validated by well-designed studies.

Hanft, et al. (1998) evaluated the effectiveness of OrthoLogic combined magnetic field (CMF) bone growth stimulation in the treatment of acute, phase 1, Charcot neuroarthopathy. Thirty-one subjects were studied. Initially 10 controls and 11 study patients were examined. When the initial results were analyzed, 10 additional study patients were added. The result was a statistically significant reduction in time to consolidation, 23.8 weeks for the control versus 11 weeks for the study group. The authors also reported that there was less destruction of the bony architecture in the study group as compared to the control. A systematic evidence review of treatments for Charcot foot (Smith, et al., 2007) commented on the study by Hanft, et al., stating that the findings from the preliminary trial may be biased arising from the small sample size, selection bias and awareness to group allocation by subjects owing to a lack of blinding.

Perlman, et al. (1999) reported on a reviews of charts for a series of 88 ankle fusions at a single institution. Sixty-seven of these had adequate follow-up for evaluation for union of the fusion, including adequate records or x-rays. Nineteen of sixty-seven ankle fusions progressed to nonunion (28%). The authors reported a trend toward increased risk of nonunions in patients who were smokers, drank alcohol, had diabetes, had a psychiatric disorder, or used illegal drugs. However, statistical significance was not achieved for any one of these factors. Other evidence for use of electrical stimulation for Charcot joint consists of case reports (Bier, et al., 1987).

Bigliani, et al. (1983) reported on treatment with pulsing electromagnetic fields as an adjunct in a series 20 patients who had had a knee fusions after failure of a total joint replacement at a single institution. Eighteen had had an infected arthroplasty; one, mechanical loosening; and one, recurrent dislocation. Arthrodesis had been attempted 25 times in these 20 patients prior to application of the coils. These procedures included the use of 22 external fixation frames, one compression plate, one intramedullary rod, and one cylinder cast. Two groups of patients were identified: those with non-union and those with delayed union. Fourteen patients began treatment six months or more after arthrodesis and were considered to have a nonunion. The other six patients started treatment less than six months after attempted arthrodesis because there was no evidence of progression toward union. They were considered to have delayed union. In 17 of the 20 patients, a clinically solid arthrodesis with x-ray evidence of bone-bridging was achieved. The average time to union after coil therapy was started was 5.8 months, with a range of 3 to 12 months. The authors stated that the patients who started coil treatment earlier after arthrodesis showed a tendency to heal faster. The authors stated that three patients who had failures were the only ones who did not adhere to the protocol, and all three were in the nonunion group. The authors stated that all patients with a solid arthrodesis were free of pain and able to walk at the time of follow-up, 9 to 31 months after the completion of treatment. Limitations of this study include the small size, retrospective nature, and lack of a comparison group.

There is little evidence to support electrical stimulation for lumbar spondylolysis (also known as pars inter-articularis fracture).  According to eMedicine (Malanga et al, 2009), "The use of external electrical stimulation for the healing of spondylolysis has been reported in 2 cases in the literature.  Electrical stimulation has been used to heal fractures in all areas of the body.  Although the literature supports the efficacy of electrical stimulation in healing fractures, the use of electrical stimulation for healing of spondylosis is not well studied and generally not necessary".

UpToDate reviews on "Overview of stress fractures" (deWeber, 2012) and "Stress fractures of the metatarsal shaft" (Clugston and Hatch, 2012) do not mention the use of bone growth stimulator for the management of patients with stress fractures.

Semi-Invasive Bone Growth Stimulators

Semi-invasive direct current stimulation devices entail implantation of induction wires, but the power-pack is worn externally.  The cable connecting the two passes through the skin, requiring careful attention to prevent infection.  To date, no semi-invasive electrical bone growth stimulator devices have been approved or cleared by the FDA for clinical uses.

CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-9 Codes
Ultrasonic osteogenesis stimulator:
CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:
HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:
E0760 Osteogenesis stimulator, low intensity ultrasound, non-invasive
ICD-9 codes covered if selection criteria are met:
733.81 Malunion of fracture
733.82 Nonunion of fracture
738.4 Acquired spondylolisthesis
756.12 Spondylolisthesis
814.01 Closed fracture of navicular (scaphoid) bone of wrist
814.11 Open fracture of navicular (scaphoid) bone of wrist
823.00 Fracture upper end, closed, tibia alone
823.02 Fracture upper end, closed, fibula with tibia
823.10 Fracture upper end, open, tibia alone
823.12 Fracture upper end, open, fibula with tibia
823.20 Fracture shaft, closed, tibia alone
823.22 Fracture shaft, closed, fibula with tibia
823.30 Fracture shaft, open, tibia alone
823.32 Fracture shaft, open, fibula with tibia
823.80 Fracture unspecified part, closed, tibia alone
823.82 Fracture unspecified part, closed, fibula with tibia
823.90 Fracture unspecified part, open, tibia alone
823.92 Fracture unspecified part, open, fibula with tibia
ICD-9 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:
170.4 - 170.8 Malignant neoplasm of scapula and long bones of upper limb, short bones of upper limb, pelvic bones, sacrum, and coccyx, long bones of lower limb, or short bones of lower limb
198.5 Secondary malignant neoplasm of bone and bone marrow
713.5 Arthropathy associated with neurological disorders [Charcot foot/arthropathy]
732.5 Juvenile osteochondrosis of foot [calcaneal apophysitis (Sever disease)]
733.10 - 733.19 Pathologic fracture
733.42 Aseptic necrosis of head and neck of femur
733.93 - 733.95 Stress fractures
800.00 - 804.9 Fracture of skull
805.00 - 806.9 Fracture of vertebral column
825.25 Closed fracture of metatarsal bone(s) [Jones (5th metatarsal) fracture]
825.35 Open fracture of metatarsal bone(s) [Jones (5th metatarsal) fracture]
996.67 Infection and inflammatory reaction due to other internal orthopedic device, implant, and graft
996.78 Other complications due to internal orthopedic device, implant, and graft
Electrical Stimulation:
CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:
HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:
E0747 Osteogenesis stimulator, electrical, noninvasive, other than spinal applications
E0748 Osteogenesis stimulator, electrical, noninvasive, spinal applications
E0749 Osteogenesis stimulator, electrical, surgically implanted
ICD-9 codes covered if selection criteria are met:
733.81 Malunion of fracture
733.82 Nonunion of fracture
738.4 Acquired spondylolisthesis
756.12 Spondylolisthesis
814.01 Closed fracture of navicular (scaphoid) bone of wrist
814.11 Open fracture of navicular (scaphoid) bone of wrist
823.00 Fracture upper end, closed, tibia alone
823.02 Fracture upper end, closed, fibula with tibia
823.10 Fracture upper end, open, tibia alone
823.12 Fracture upper end, open, fibula with tibia
823.20 Fracture shaft, closed, tibia alone
823.22 Fracture shaft, closed, fibula with tibia
823.30 Fracture shaft, open, tibia alone
823.32 Fracture shaft, open, fibula with tibia
823.80 Fracture unspecified part, closed, tibia alone
823.82 Fracture unspecified part, closed, fibula with tibia
823.90 Fracture unspecified part, open, tibia alone
823.92 Fracture unspecified part, open, fibula with tibia
825.22 Closed fracture of navicular (scaphoid), foot
825.32 Open fracture of navicular (scaphoid), foot
ICD-9 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:
713.5 Arthropathy associated with neurological disorders [Charcot foot]
724.6 Sacroiliac fusion
733.42 Aseptic necrosis of head and neck of femur
733.93 - 733.95 Stress fractures
756.11 Spondylolysis, lumbar region
806.10 - 806.14 Open fracture of C1 – C4 vertebra [odontoid fractures]
808.0 - 808.3 Fracture of pelvis
811.00 - 811.19 Fracture of scapula
814.02, 814.12 Fracture of lunate
996.41 Mechanical loosening of prosthetic joint [knee joint]
Other ICD-9 codes related to the CPB:
094.0 Tabes dorsalis [associated with Charcot foot/arthropathy]
140.0 - 208.91, 230.0 - 234.9 Malignant neoplasm
336.0 Syringomyelia and syringobulbia [associated with Charcot foot/arthropathy]
356.1 Peroneal muscular atrophy [associated with Charcot foot]
580.0 - 593.9 Renal disease
996.49 Other mechanical complication of internal orthopedic device, implant, and graft [spinal fusion failure]
V45.4 Arthrodesis status
Semi-Invasive Bone Growth Stimulators:
No specific code
ICD-9 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB (not all inclusive):
733.81 - 733.82 Malunion and nonunion of fracture
800.0 - 804.9 Skull fractures
805.0 - 809.1 Fracture of neck and trunk
810.0 - 819.1 Fracture of upper limb
820.00 - 829.1 Fracture of lower limb

The above policy is based on the following references:
  1. Bigliani LU, Rosenwasser MP, Caulo N, et al. The use of pulsing electromagnetic fields to achieve arthrodesis of the knee following failed total knee arthroplasty. A preliminary report. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1983;65(4):480-485.
  2. Bier RR, Estersohn HS. A new treatment for Charcot joint in the diabetic foot. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 1987;77(2):63-99.
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA approves device to speed healing of fractures. FDA Talk Paper. Rockville, MD: FDA; October 12, 1994.  
  4. Heckman JD, Ryaby JP, McCabe J, et al. Acceleration of tibial fracture-healing by non-invasive, low-intensity pulsed ultrasound. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1994;76(1):26-34.  
  5. Kristiansen TK, Ryaby JP, McCabe J, et al. Accelerated healing of distal radial fractures with the use of specific, low-intensity ultrasound. A multicenter, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1997;79 (7):961-973.
  6. Duarte L, Choffie M. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound and effects on ununited fractures. Paper presented at the Orthopedic Health Conference, University Hospital, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 1994.  
  7. Brighton CT. Use of constant direct current in the treatment of nonunion. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Instructional Course Lectures. Park Ridge, IL: AAOS; 1981.  
  8. Cook SD, Ryaby JP, McCabe J, et al. Acceleration of tibia and distal radius fracture healing in patients who smoke. Clin Orthop. 1997;337:198-207. 
  9. Hanft JR, Goggin JP, Landsman A, Surprenant M. The role of combined magnetic field bone growth stimulation as an adjunct in the treatment of neuroarthropathy/Charcot joint: An expanded pilot study. J Foot Ankle Surg. 1998;37(6):510-515; discussion 550-551.
  10. Perlman MH, Thordarson DB. Ankle fusion in a high risk population: An assessment of nonunion risk factors. Foot Ankle Int. 1999;20(8):491-496.
  11. Exogen. Summary of safety and efficacy data. Exogen 2000 or Sonic Accelerated Fracture Healing System. PMA Number:900009, Suppl. 6. Piscataway, NJ: Exogen; 2000. 
  12. Mayr E, Frankel V, Rüter A. Ultrasound -- an alternative healing method for nonunions? Orthop Trauma Surg. 2000;120:1-8.  
  13. Warden SJ, Bennell KL, McMeeken JM, et al. Acceleration of fresh fracture repair using the sonic accelerated fracture healing system (SAFHS): A review. Calcif Tissue Int. 2000;66:157-163.  
  14. Mayr E, Wagner S, Ecker M, et al. Ultrasound therapy for nonunions (pseudarthrosis): 3 case reports. Unfallchirurg. 1999;123:191-196.
  15. Hadjiargyrou M, McLeod K, Ryaby JP, et al. Enhancement of fracture healing by low intensity ultrasound. Clin Orthop. 1998;355 Suppl:S216-S229.  
  16. Mayr E, Wagner S, Rüter A. Treatment of nonunions by means of low-intensity ultrasound. Unfallchirurg. 1997;121:958-962.
  17. Kane WJ. Direct current electrical bone growth stimulation for spinal fusion. Spine. 1988;13:163-165.
  18. Mooney V. A randomized double blind prospective study of the efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic fields for interbody fusions. Spine. 1990;15:8-12. 
  19. Tejano NA, Puno R, Ignacio JM. The use of implantable direct current stimulation in multilevel spinal fusion without instrumentation. Spine. 1996;21(16):1904-1908.
  20. Kahanovitz N. Spine update. The use of adjunctive electrical stimulation to enhance the healing of spine fusions. Spine. 1996;21(21):2523-2525.
  21. Brown E. Noninvasive electrical stimulation for fracture nonunions. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Technology Assessment, American Medical Association. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; February 1, 1989. 
  22. Gudas CJ, Cann JE. Nonunions and related disorders. Clinics Podc Med Surg. 1991;8(2):321-339.
  23. Albert SF, Wong E. Electrical stimulation of bone repair. Clinics Pod Med Surg. 1991;8(4):923-935.
  24. Garland DE, Moses B, Salyer W. Long-term follow-up of fracture nonunions treated with PEMFs. Contemp Orthoped. 1991;22(3):295-302.
  25. Basset C, Schink-Ascani M. Long-term pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) results in congenital pseudarthrosis. Calcif Tissue Int. 1991;49(3):216-220.
  26. Scott G, King JB. A prospective, double-blind trial of electrical capacitive coupling in the treatment of non-union of long bones. J Bone Joint Surg. 1994;76A(6):820-826.
  27. Holmes GB. Treatment of delayed unions and nonunions of the proximal fifth metatarsal with pulsed electromagnetic fields. Foot Ankle Int. 1994;15(10):552-556.
  28. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Decision memo for electrical stimulation for fracture healing (CAG-00043N). Medicare Coverage Database. Baltimore, MD: CMS; November 9, 1999.
  29. Akai M, Hayashi K. Effect of electrical stimulation on musculoskeletal systems: A meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Bioelectromagnetics. 2002;23(2):132-143.
  30. Akai M, Kawashima N, Kimura T, Hayashi K. Electrical stimulation as an adjunct to spinal fusion: A meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Bioelectromagnetics. 2002;23(7):496-504.
  31. Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). The use of electrical stimulation to promote healing of fractures. Technote TN 1. Edmonton, AB: AHFMR; 1996.
  32. Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). Low intensity ultrasound treatment of nonunion fractures. Techscan. Edmonton, AB: AHFMR; April 1999.
  33. Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC). Low intensity ultrasound treatment for acceleration of bone fracture healing - Exogen bone growth stimulator. Assessment Report. MSAC Application 1030. Canberra, ACT: MSAC; 2001.
  34. Busse JW, Bhandari M, Kulkarni AV, Tunks E. The effect of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound therapy on time to fracture healing: A meta-analysis. Can Med Assoc J. 2002;166(4):437-441.
  35. Banken R. Low-intensity ultrasound (Exogen) for the treatment of fractures. AETMIS 03-05. Montreal, QC: Agence d'Evaluation des Technologies et des Modes d'Intervention en Sante (AETMIS); 2004.
  36. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Decision memo for ultrasound stimulation for nonunion fracture healing (CAG-00022R). Medicare Coverage Database. Baltimore, MD: CMS; April 27, 2005.
  37. Wang JC, Le AW, Tsukuda RK. A new technique for Charcot's foot reconstruction. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2002;92(8):429-436.
  38. NHIC, Corp. Osteogenesis stimulators. Local Coverage Determination L11501. Durable Medical Equipment Medicare Administrative Contractor (DME MAC) Jurisdiction A. Hingham, MA: NHIC; revised August 1, 2009.
  39. NHIC, Corp. Osteogenesis stimulators. Policy Article A35349. Durable Medical Equipment Medicare Administrative Contractor (DME MAC) Jurisdiction A. Hingham, MA: NHIC; revised August 1, 2009.
  40. Rue JP, Armstrong DW 3rd, Frassica FJ, et al. The effect of pulsed ultrasound in the treatment of tibial stress fractures. Orthopedics. 2004;27(11):1192-1195.
  41. Ricardo M. The effect of ultrasound on the healing of muscle-pediculated bone graft in scaphoid non-union. Int Orthop. 2006;30(2):123-127.
  42. Zura RD, Sasser B, Sabesan V, et al. A survey of orthopaedic traumatologists concerning the use of bone growth stimulators. J Surg Orthop Adv. 2007;16(1):1-4.
  43. Schoelles K, Snyder D, Kaczmarek J, et al. The role of bone growth stimulating devices and orthobiologics in healing nonunion fractures. Technology Assessment. Prepared by the ECRI Evidence-Based Practice Center for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Rockville, MD: AHRQ; September 21, 2005.
  44. Welch WC, Willis SL, Gerszten PC. Implantable direct current stimulation in para-axial cervical arthrodesis. Adv Ther. 2004;21(6):389-400.
  45. Stasinopoulos D. Treatment of spondylolysis with external electrical stimulation in young athletes: A critical literature review. Br J Sports Med. 2004;38(3):352-354.
  46. Hockenbury RT, Gruttadauria M, McKinney I. Use of implantable bone growth stimulation in Charcot ankle arthrodesis. Foot Ankle Int. 2007;28(9):971-976.
  47. Smith C, Kumar S, Causby R. The effectiveness of non-surgical interventions in the treatment of Charcot foot. Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2007;5(4):437-449.
  48. Simonis RB, Parnell EJ, Ray PS, Peacock JL. Electrical treatment of tibial non-union: A prospective, randomised, double-blind trial. Injury. 2003;34(5):357-362.
  49. Busse J W, Kaur J, Mollon B, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasonography for fractures: Systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Br Med J. 2009;338:b351.
  50. Malanga GA, Tung DL, Kim N, Perez C. Pars interarticularis injury: Treatment & medication. eMedicine. New York, NY: Medscape; December 17, 2009.
  51. Massari L, Caruso G, Sollazzo V, Setti S. Pulsed electromagnetic fields and low intensity pulsed ultrasound in bone tissue. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2009; 6(2):149-154.
  52. Watanabe Y, Matsushita T, Bhandari M, et al. Ultrasound for fracture healing: Current evidence. J Orthop Trauma. 2010;24 Suppl 1:S56-S61.
  53. Goldstein C, Sprague S, Petrisor BA. Electrical stimulation for fracture healing: Current evidence. J Orthop Trauma. 2010;24 Suppl 1:S62-S65.
  54. deWeber K. Overview of stress fractures. UpToDate [online serial]. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; reviewed January 2012.
  55. Clugston JR, Hatch RL. Stress fractures of the metatarsal shaft. UpToDate [online serial]. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; reviewed January 2012.
  56. Alsobrook J, Hatch RL. Proximal fifth metatarsal fractures. Last reviewed February 2013. UpToDate Inc. Waltham, MA.

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Copyright Aetna Inc. All rights reserved. Clinical Policy Bulletins are developed by Aetna to assist in administering plan benefits and constitute neither offers of coverage nor medical advice. This Clinical Policy Bulletin contains only a partial, general description of plan or program benefits and does not constitute a contract. Aetna does not provide health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Participating providers are independent contractors in private practice and are neither employees nor agents of Aetna or its affiliates. Treating providers are solely responsible for medical advice and treatment of members. This Clinical Policy Bulletin may be updated and therefore is subject to change.
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