Heterotopic Ossification

By Cesar Roman, MS, ATC

What is Heterotopic Ossification?

The quick answer, Heterotopic Ossification is the abnormal growth of bone in the non-skeletal tissues, including muscle, tendons, or other soft tissue. It can happen anywhere in the body. The most common places are the knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows. When it develops, new bone grows at three times the normal rate. Thus, resulting in jagged and painful joints. Heterotopic ossification is also seen in neurologic disorders such as spinal cord and brain injury. The sooner you treat this condition, the better the results. If you suspect having this condition, you should contact your doctor.

Heterotopic Ossification can be treated by an orthopedic specialist.

A Runner with Heterotopic Ossification.

Causes of this Disease

The cause of heterotopic ossification is unknown. There may be a genetic link. Heterotopic Ossification can also happen because of trauma.

Risk Factors

  • Trauma or injury.
  • Immobilization or paralysis.
  • Recent spinal cord injury.
  • Burns.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Fractures.
  • Joint Infection.
  • Joint Surgery.
  • Genetics.
  • Inflammation.
  • Severe bleeding.

Symptoms of Heterotopic Ossification

  • Limited Range of Motion: A person with heterotopic ossification may have limitations or difficulty performing ADLs.  Such as moving their arms and legs normally.
  • Swelling or warmth of joint: It may develop redness, swelling, or warmth in the areas over an articulation.  This is due to a rapid heterotopic ossification formation.
  • Fever: Sometimes, they may develop a fever as high as 103 ºF. The most common time for fever is at night.
  • Increased Spasticity: Increased muscle spasms and pain in the joints and muscles.
  • Joint and Muscle Pain: The bone that grows is often jagged. This makes joint movement rough and bumpy and very painful.

How it is Diagnosed

Often, it is diagnosed due to symptom development and through health history. Your doctor may order some tests to confirm the symptoms.   Some of the tests may include:

  • Blood tests.
  • CT Scan.
  • Ultrasound.
  • X-Rays.
  • Bone Scan.
  • You may need a referral to a specialist.

Treatment and Physical Therapy

Treatment will depend on how serious the condition is. Your doctor and physical therapist will work to develop a treatment plan that best fits you. This may include the prescription of medications to slow down or stop the abnormal growth of the bone. Radiation therapy may help prevent abnormal growth. However, when this condition severely impacts your movement or causes excruciating pain, surgery may be necessary. Additionally, radiation or NSAIDs may be taken to prevent a recurrence. Therefore, physical therapy can be a very important aspect to strengthen the muscles and tendons.

To schedule for physical therapy, please call 904-858-7045.

Related Articles: JOI Frequently Asked Questions

JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP fracture and injury care. In other words, this is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room. So, you can make an appointment by calling (904)JOI-2000.

If you think you may be suffering from heterotopic ossification or another injury, JOI can help! Finally, to schedule an appointment with an Orthopaedic Specialist, please call 904-JOI-2000, or click below to schedule online.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician in Jax.

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By: Cesar Roman, MS, ATC


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