Is bone marrow donation really painful?

June 16, 2022

When you think about donating your bone marrow, it might conjure up images of big, long needles. It might cause you to flinch at the thought of bone marrow being taken directly from your bones. You might think bone marrow is a painful experience you have to undergo, to donate.

Well, we have some good news for you.

The procedure used to take bone marrow from you is painless. The reason being is, you are put under general anaesthesia, so you are completely asleep for the 45 minutes to an hour it takes to extract enough marrow.  There is still a needle involved, though. This is a special needle, which is quite thin, used to carefully remove the liquid marrow, sitting within your hip bones, at the back of your pelvis.

1 in 10 will donate by bone marrow. While it used to be the most common way to donate, things have changed and now most donations occur by peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. So, if most people donate by PBSC, why do we still carry out bone marrow donations? Most of the time, a patient’s medical team may request a bone marrow donation because the patient is a child. The aim is to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow, with new marrow, helping a patient re-build their immune system.

Depending on the collection centre, you will be taken to recovery and either kept overnight or allowed to go home the same day. This is mainly down to the anaesthesia, rather than the procedure itself. Recovering from a bone marrow donation varies between individuals. Most commonly, you may feel sore and stiff in your lower back for a couple of days. Any pain can be managed with paracetamol. There might also be some colourful bruising to the back of your hips. Some donors can feel more tired after the procedure and the best thing you can do is rest. Most donors are back to their regular routines after a week. It can, however, take up to three weeks to feel fully recovered.

For more background information on bone marrow, head over to our FAQs.

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