Bone grafting is a commonly performed surgical procedure to augment bone regeneration in a variety of cases in orthopaedic and maxillofacial surgery. Autologous bone graft remains to be the 'gold standard' and the iliac crest to be the most common harvesting site. The intramedullary canal of long bones represents another potential site for large volume of autologous bone graft harvesting and is recently being used as an alternative donor site. However, harvesting of autologous bone graft is associated with morbidity and a number of complications. The aim of this systematic review was to collect and summarise the existing data on reported complications after harvesting autologous bone from the iliac crest (anterior and posterior) and the long bone intramedullary canal using the RIA device. We searched the PubMed Medline and Ovid Medline databases, from January 1990 to October 2010, to retrieve all relevant articles. A total of 92 articles (6682 patients) were included in the analysis. Overall, the complication rate following RIA was 6% (14 complications in 233 patients) and 19.37% after iliac crest bone graft harvesting (1249 complications in 6449 patients). The rate of each of the reported complications was assessed and, when the donor site was properly documented, comparison within the anterior and posterior iliac crest donor sites was performed. Although the difference of the overall morbidity rates between the two harvesting sites was not statistically significant (p=0.71); the rates of certain complications were found to significantly differ when anterior or posterior iliac crest was used. The rates of infection (p=0.016), haematoma formation (p=0.002), fracture (p=0.017), and hyperthrophic scar (p=0.017) were significantly higher when the donor site was the anterior iliac crest compared to the posterior iliac crest; whereas the rates of chronic donor site pain (p=0.004) and sensory disturbances (p=0.003) were significantly lower. The incidence of bone graft harvesting related complications can be reduced further if certain principles are followed depending on the performed harvesting methods; but overall the use of RIA device as harvesting method seems a promising alternative with a low complication rate.
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