Osteochondroma: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Osteochondroma accounts for more than 20 to 50% of ALL benign bone tumor cases. It is commonly seen in children as early as ten years old. In fact, 75-80% of the patients diagnosed were found in young adults below 20 years of age.

Although rare, this medical condition needs more awareness and public understanding. So read on below as our leading orthopedic spine surgeon in Palm Beach County discusses osteochondroma and the treatment options available for this disease.

What Is Osteochondroma?

Osteochondroma (or osteocartilaginous exostosis) refers to a hard mass of non-cancerous tumor that usually sprouts at the epiphyseal growth plate. This benign overgrowth usually occurs in the long bones of the legs, flat bones of the pelvis, and the spine.

The lump itself consists of a mixture of bone tissues and cartilage cells displaced from the growth plate. As a result, the disorder often presents itself in two different structures: sessile and pedunculated.


If the mass growing from the growth plate has a broad base and a flat, plateau-like stalk, it is called sessile. This type of mass is uncommon and usually arises at the proximal part of the bones of your arm and shoulder blades.


When bone tumors develop an elongated stalk extending away from the nearest joint, it is called pedunculated. This type of tumor has a higher prevalence than its counterpart.

What Are The Clinical Forms of Osteochondroma?

Osteochondroma has two different clinical forms: as a solitary lesion or as part of a numerous overgrowth called multiple osteochondromas or hereditary multiple exostoses (HME).

Solitary Osteochondroma

This is the most common type of benign bone tumor, occurring in 85% of cases reported. It usually develops in the ankle, knee, and hip bones.

Multiple Osteochondroma

On the other hand, hereditary multiple exostoses only occur in 15% of patients, but it has a more severe presentation than its counterpart. For one, there are many lesions present, and both sessile and pedunculated types may arise.

Furthermore, studies suggest that about 10% of HME cases have a chance of turning into sarcoma or malignant bone tumors. Lastly, most HME occurs in the spine, which makes it a complicated condition.

What Are The Symptoms Of Osteochondroma?

Osteochondromas commonly appear as an immovable bump at the top of the bones or near a joint. Its size may grow as the patient, more often a child, grows as well. However, it rarely causes any problems or symptoms, except when it’s located near a muscle, nerve, or tendon.

Some of the specific symptoms you may feel depending on the location of the lump include:

  • Numbness and tingling for tumors that rubs or puts pressure on the nerves in the area
  • Soreness and pain when it is near the tendons.
  • Loss of pulse, changes in skin color, and blood flow when the tumor grows and puts pressure on the blood vessels.

Additionally, some patients with a benign bone tumor may appear shorter in height or have differing limb lengths. 

What Causes Osteochondroma?

The exact cause of bone tumors with solitary lesions has yet to be discovered. But for multiple osteochondromas, many theories point to genetics and mutations of the EXT gene as a contributing factor of its development.

Can Osteochondroma Become Cancerous?

As rare as it may be, studies have suggested that benign bone tumors can become cancerous over time. Some of the signs commonly seen in benign bone lumps turning malignant include:

  • Continuous increase in the size of the mass.
  • Pain and erythema (redness of the skin) in the affected area.
  • A cartilage cap that has a thickness of more than 2cm. 

How Is Osteochondroma Diagnosed?

Due to its asymptomatic nature, most osteochondromas get diagnosed by accident. Most orthopedic doctors will perform specific diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of a lump in the bones. This includes:

  • X-ray scan – this is the most commonly used procedure to diagnose this disease. It allows specialists to get a view of the affected bones and see if there are tumor growths.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this test will further confirm the presence of a mass. It can also confirm the presence of thick cartilage in the lump, indicating that it can turn cancerous.
  • Biopsy – a tissue sample may be requested by the physician to know if it is malignant.

How Is Osteochondroma Treated?

Medical management for symptomatic patients usually consists of pain medications and regular clinical exams (e.g., imaging tests). Spine doctors may only recommend surgery in both solitary and multiple tumors if symptoms exist. Other factors that may suggest that it’s time for a surgical procedure include:

  • Pain in the lump site during movement.
  • Bone tumor growth
  • Vascular compression
  • Increase in cartilage cap size

Orthopedic spine doctors will perform a surgical procedure by completely removing the mass at the bone base. Generally, recovery from such surgeries may take weeks or more, depending on the location of the lump removed.

In addition, physiotherapy might be recommended by your doctor to facilitate recovery and improve mobility.

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Get the Proper Consultation for Your Spine Condition

The spine is an intricate part of our anatomy, so it’s only natural to want the best orthopedic care and spine surgeon to handle your back-related problems. Luckily, our leading specialist Dr. Matthew Hepler is ready to help.

An adult and pediatric orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Hepler specializes in spine reconstruction and treatment, such as microdiscectomy, posterior lateral fusion, and much more

Contact us to schedule your consultation or visit one of our convenient locations:

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.