During a bone marrow donation procedure, people will have a general or local anesthetic, so they will not feel any pain. After the procedure, someone may experience side effects, such as aches or pains in the lower back or hip area.

Any side effects following the procedure usually ease within a few days or weeks.

Bone marrow donation is a procedure that collects bone marrow cells from a donor for someone receiving a bone marrow transplant. Doctors may also refer to bone marrow donation as bone marrow harvest.

This article examines what happens during bone marrow donation, whether it is painful, possible side effects, and recovery.

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Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that extracts liquid marrow from the center of a person’s bones. The marrow contains the bloodforming cells people require for bone marrow transplants.

Doctors carry out the procedure while the patient is under general anesthetic, and it takes place in an operating room within the hospital. A person lies face down so a doctor can reach the back of the pelvis.

A doctor inserts a hollow needle into either side of the back of the pelvis bone to reach the center and extract the liquid marrow. They will repeat this step until they have withdrawn enough marrow, which may depend on the donor’s weight.

Hospital staff will then transport the extracted liquid to the person receiving the transplant.

Learn about bone marrow transplants.

Collecting bone marrow may take 1–2 hours. During this time, a doctor may collect 2 pints, or 10%, of a person’s marrow. Within 4–6 weeks, the body will replace it.

The donation process may take 20–30 hours over 4–6 weeks. This includes all appointments, phone calls, and the actual donation procedure.

During bone marrow collection, people will be under a general or local anesthetic, which means they will not feel any pain.

After the procedure, people may feel pain or discomfort in their lower back and hips. It may feel like a muscle strain or a fall on the buttocks. However, these side effects are temporary and will ease within a few days or weeks.

Side effects from donating bone marrow may affect the area around the site of donation, such as the lower back and hips, and may include:

  • bruising
  • soreness or tenderness
  • aching
  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • headache
  • difficulty walking for a few days after the procedure
  • a sore throat or nausea from the anesthetic

Bone marrow donation is generally a low risk procedure. Complications are rare but may include:

  • a reaction to the anesthetic
  • an infection
  • damage to nerves or muscles
  • injury at the site of needle insertion

After the procedure, a person may go to a recovery room to wait while the anesthetic wears off. Healthcare professionals will monitor them until they can eat and drink again.

Most people can leave the hospital a few hours after the procedure or the following morning. They may wish to take over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medications to help ease pain or discomfort.

It may be beneficial to schedule rest days following the procedure, as it is common to feel tired, weak, or have difficulty walking as usual.

People will usually be able to return to their typical activities within 2–3 days after the procedure. However, it may take 2–3 weeks before people feel fully back to their usual selves.

A doctor may also advise taking iron supplements until a person’s red blood count returns to expected levels.

Be The Match, from the National Marrow Donor Program, provides medical guidelines for people considering becoming a donor.

Be The Match focuses on donors aged 18–35 years, as research suggests this age group may provide the best outcomes for bone marrow transplants.

However, people with certain medical conditions are ineligible to become donors. These conditions include:

Though people of any gender can donate, pregnant individuals cannot.

Learn more about bone marrow.

If people wish to volunteer for bone marrow donation, they can talk with a healthcare professional to find a local donor center or go to the Be The Match website to join the bone marrow registry.

Individuals can also call 1-800-MARROW-2 (1-800-627-7692), which is toll-free.

People must answer questions about their health to find out if they are a suitable match. They will also have a blood test to find their human leukocyte antigen type to match them to a person requiring a transplant.

If a donor is a match for a recipient, the donor will need to sign a consent form. People may also have a medical exam and blood tests to check they are healthy enough for the procedure.

Bone marrow donation is a procedure that collects healthy bone marrow cells from a donor for transplant into a person with bone marrow issues.

People will receive a general or local anesthetic before a doctor collects the bone marrow, so they will not experience any pain during the procedure.

After the procedure, individuals may experience pain or discomfort in the pelvic area and lower back. People may also feel tiredness or fatigue. It may take a few days or weeks for them to recover fully after donating.