Heterotopic Ossification

By Cesar Roman, MS, ATC

Heterotopic Ossification can be treated by an orthopedic specialist.

Image of a Runner with Heterotopic Ossification.

What is Heterotopic Ossification?

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, 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 of having this condition, you should contact your doctor.


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.


  • 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 due a rapid formation of heterotopic ossification.
  • Fever: Sometimes it may develop fever as high as 103 ºF. Most common time for fever is at night.
  • Increased Spasticity: Increased muscle spasms may occur related to pain and discomfort in the joints.
  • Joint and Muscle Pain: The bone that grows is often jagged, making joint movement rough and bumpy and very painful.

How it is Diagnosed

Often it is diagnosed after some of the symptoms have been identified and through your health history. Your doctor may order some tests to confirm the symptoms and to determine if they are related or not to the condition. Some of the tests may include:

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


Treatment will depend on how serious is the condition. Your doctor and physical therapist will work to develop a treatment plan that best fits you. This may include prescription of medications to slow down or stop the abnormal growth of the bone. Radiation therapy may help prevent abnormal growth. When this condition severely impacts your movement, or causes excruciating pain, surgery may be necessary. Additionally, radiation or NSAID’s may be instructed to be taken to prevent recurrence.

JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP fracture and injury care. This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room if they have suffered a fracture or soft tissue injury. To learn more about this service, read this article about fracture and injury care. Make an appointment by calling (904)JOI-2000.

If you think you may be suffering from heterotopic ossification, or another injury, JOI can help! To schedule an appointment with an Orthopaedic Specialist, please call 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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