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What Causes Heterotopic Ossification?

Posted by Robert T. Karns | Sep 24, 2021 | 0 Comments

Heterotopic ossification (HO) is when bone forms within soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, and other non-skeletal tissues; in other words, HO is when bone forms where it should not exist. Unfortunately, HO can be a debilitating condition. Most often, it is rooted in bone fractures, joint replacements, burns, and/or neurological damage, like spinal cord injuries (SCIs) or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Many people do not hear of heterotopic ossification until it happens to them or their loved ones. Thus, an HO diagnosis often comes as an unwelcome surprise. To help you through this difficult time, our attorneys at Karns & Kerrison are here to break down the basics of HO.

The Relationship Between Traumatic Brain Injury and HO

Studies have shown that sustaining a traumatic brain injury may increase one's chances of developing heterotopic ossification, especially if the patient has sustained a bone fracture and a TBI. In fact, neurological HO (NHO) is common when a neurological insult, such as a TBI or SCI occurs in the presence of other injuries, like bone fractures and muscle injuries.

Please note that HO may occur solely due to a TBI, meaning two injuries are not a requirement.

Heterotopic Ossification Symptoms

Once HO develops, it can cause bones to grow at rates three times faster than normal, leading to jagged and painful joints. It follows that redness, swelling, and warmth around the joint affected with HO is a common symptom.

Other symptoms of HO include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased muscles spasms and spasticity

Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a very serious condition often associated with HO, especially HO rooted in spine injuries. AD occurs when your body, but not your brain, experiences pain or discomfort below the level of the injury. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure and, thus, serious health complications, from stroke to seizure, to organ damage and even death. HO may be the cause of the pain that leads to AD.

Can Heterotopic Ossification Be Treated?

HO can be treated with physical therapy and other gentle range of motion exercises for the affected joints. Medication may also be used to halt HO's progression. Surgical removal of heterotopic bone may be possible in patients whose heterotopic bone is the result of spine or brain trauma. That said, surgery and other aggressive treatments (like radiation) are used as a last line of treatment after all other options have been exhausted.

About Karns & Kerrison

If you or a loved one has sustained a brain injury due to someone else's negligence, you may have a legal case. At Karns & Kerrison, we fight to win compensation for Rhode Island brain injury victims, including those who later developed HO. Book your free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable trial attorney—contact us online or call us at (888) 281-3100 today!

About the Author

Robert T. Karns

Founding Attorney


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