What is an Exostosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Exostosis is a benign bony outgrowth. It can occur anywhere in the body, and may be caused by a number of different things, ranging from environmental stresses to genetics. When someone develops an exostosis, the outgrowth may become painful or aesthetically displeasing, in which case surgery is a treatment option. In other cases, the growth may be allowed to remain, with a doctor keeping an eye on it to identify any early signs of complications which may emerge.

One common reason for exostoses to occur is environmental stress. A classic example known as surfer's ear happens when bone grows into the ear canal, apparently in response to frequent flooding with cold water. The patient starts to experience difficulty hearing and may have pain in the ears caused by the bony growth. A surgeon can remove the bone to restore hearing and patient comfort. Another form, buccal exostosis, involves the jawbone, with the lower jaw being more prone than the upper jaw.


Damage to joints can also cause this condition. In this case, strain on the joint results in the development of a small deposit of bone on or near the joint. A closely related condition, osteocartilaginous exostosis, involves a growth of bone and cartilage. This condition is also known as osteochondroma, and it tends to appear at the ends of the long bones. This benign bone tumor may be left in place or removed, depending on whether or not it interferes with the patient's quality of life.

Exostosis can also occur spontaneously, with no clear environmental cause. Some patients have a form known as hereditary multiple exostosis (HME), in which exostoses occur randomly across the body due to an inherited condition. In a family with a history of this condition, people may monitor children as they develop so that they can detect signs of bony growths early.

This condition can be identified by a doctor, who can take x-rays, examine the patient, and perform an interview to learn more. Once the extent of the problem has been determined, the doctor can talk about treatment options. The conservative approach involves watching and waiting, leaving the growth in place and checking in periodically to confirm it is not causing problems. More aggressive treatment involves surgery to remove the growth. If surgery is performed, the doctor may talk with the patient about the causes to see if any activities can be modified or avoided to prevent the growth from recurring.


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Post 4

When I got diagnosed with heel spur syndrome, the podiatrist told me that a bone spur of the heel is an exostosis. He did not, however, recommend surgery.

With heel spur syndrome, I have trouble going barefoot or wearing flat-soled shoes. I have a lot of pain if I do wear these shoes when I sit at my desk for awhile and then try to walk. It feels as if my bones are being crushed with each step, and I need to stand on my tip-toes to alleviate the pain.

My podiatrist told me to only wear shoes with arch support. My heels are actually better for me than my flats! I’ve often noticed when I’m sitting down that I subconsciously raise my feet into the position they would be if I were wearing heels, so I actually need nice shoes.

Post 3

@OeKc05 - Yes, there are ways to help protect your ears from recurring exostosis. You might get a bit warm in the waters you surf, though.

My boyfriend’s doctor recommended that he wear a hood to protect his ears. Water can still seep in through it, though, so he also told him to wear vented ear plugs. These special plugs allow sound to go through while keeping water out of the ear canal.

His doctor said the best thing he could do would be to wear both. The hood helps keep the ears warm, and that can lessen the chances of exostosis. Since the hood is mostly for insulation, you would probably do best just wearing the plugs.

Post 2

@StarJo - Did his doctor tell him how to prevent it from recurring? I am a warm water surfer, and I have been having lots of ear trouble. It started with a dull ache, and now I have trouble hearing. Ear drops don’t help, and I’m afraid I may be developing exostosis.

I don’t want to stop surfing, but I can’t live with this ear problem much longer. I’m hoping there’s a way that I can still surf while preventing the bone from growing entirely over the canal. I’ll have surgery if I have to, but I know that it could grow back.

Post 1

My boyfriend is a surfer, and he doesn’t stop even in cold weather. He developed exostosis because he surfs in water lower than 60 degrees often. His doctor told them that over 80% of cold water surfers develop exostosis within ten years. Even some warm water surfers develop moderate exostosis.

The doctor said that this creeping bone growth starts as knobs that form about midway into the canal toward the eardrum to protect it. The knobs can grow together over time and choke off the canal, leaving space between the eardrum and the knobs for wax and water to become trapped. This causes infection and pain.

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