Scientists are working towards finding a treatment for heterotopic ossification, an abnormality, which develops among marines and other military personnel.
Thsese men have suffered wartime injuries due to a high-energy trauma, such as a bomb blast.
The condition is characterised by bone forming within the soft tissues, such as muscle located near a fracture or other bone injury.
In a new research conducted at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, scientists are helping to pave the way for a better understanding of the mechanisms of the condition, and better courses of prevention and treatment.
"The purposes of this study were to report our experiences with high-energy wartime extremity wounds, to define the prevalence of heterotopic ossification in these patients, and to determine the factors that might lead to development of the condition," said lead author Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Agner Forsberg, MD.
The researchers compared data from 243 patients who were treated for orthopaedic injuries between March 1, 2003 and December 31, 2006 at the medical center, including patients who underwent amputation, external or internal fixation of one or more fractures or removal of damaged, dead or infected tissue, or 'debridement'.
They took into account variables like age and gender of the patient, location and mechanism of injury, location of the heterotopic ossification, presence and severity of brain injury.
The team also compared patients' Injury Severity Scores, which are values assessed to individual patients based on the number and types of injuries they have sustained.
Also, the study determined risk factors for the development of this condition which include an age of less than 30 years, the presence and severity of traumatic brain injury, the presence of an amputation, multiple injuries to the extremities and a high Injury Severity Score.
Heterotopic ossification is often linked with injuries to the brain or spinal cord, which can cause the entire body to react as though it is under attack, a type of response known as a systemic inflammatory response.
According to Forsberg, this unique response to massive injury is the key to understanding why the abnormal bone growth occurs more often in military wounds than in those commonly treated in the civilian population.
"Systemic inflammation is detrimental to this patient population. We believe that this sort of response contributes significantly to the development of heterotopic ossification, and is the reason why the condition is more prevalent in the war-wounded population," noted Forsberg.
He claimed that future studies would focus heavily on treatment methods geared toward prevention of the condition.
A discussion of the study appears in the latest issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.