So much of what happens in our bodies is hidden from view, including things that go wrong. Think of those tiny, invisible viruses that can cause us to become so ill. We can’t see the thinning of bones that can lead to fractures or the plaque that coats our blood vessels and increases our risk of heart attacks. The same is true of osteochondromas. You may not know you have one, unless it causes pain or other problems.
If you break down the word, osteo refers to bones, and chondroma refers to a benign growth of the bone tissue. These benign tumors often occur on the long bones of young people between the ages of 10 and 30. Your thigh bone and the one in your upper arm are common sites. However, the growths can also occur in your feet.
It is possible for several of these tumors to form around the ankle bones, compromising the health and function of this important joint. More often, though, this benign growth can appear as a bony protrusion under the toenail.
Getting the Picture
You may not even realize you have a tumor on the larger bones of your body unless you have an X-ray taken for some other problem. They are often not painful unless they press against a tendon, constrict circulation with pressure on the blood vessels, or press on a nerve, causing tingling or numbness. Even if we see the tumor on an X-ray, we may not prescribe any treatment unless it is problematic. If it is, the tumor can be removed with surgery to relieve the symptoms. Unfortunately, it can often grow back.
In your toes, the tumor may form a bump, raise the nail, or cause an ingrown toenail. If it is painful, it will need to be removed, but it may grow back again. If so, the procedure to keep it from recurring can be a little complicated. There’s a good chance the nail will fall off and have to grow out again.
Evaluating the Risks
We don’t know exactly why osteochondromas form. They occur equally in males and females and do not seem related to injury or trauma. Researchers are still investigating whether a gene called EXT 1 may be a factor, but studies are not conclusive at this point. However, if a person has many tumors (multiple osteochondromatosis), it is likely in over two-thirds of the cases that it is inherited. The others are idiopathic, meaning they occur randomly for no known reason.
What a Podiatrist Can Do
Even if you have one of these benign tumors, you may never need treatment. If it causes problems under your toenail, we can do surgery to remove the growth. Otherwise, we will just monitor it with occasional X-rays as time goes on. If for some reason an osteochondroma breaks away from the bone, you will have more severe pain, which is when surgery is likely.
For excellent podiatric care for this or other conditions, contact Victoria Melhuish, DPM of Sierra Foot & Ankle in Carson City and Gardnerville, Nevada. You can call (775) 783-8037 or request an appointment on our website. Be sure to keep in touch with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as well.