What is Osteomyelitis?

Essentially, Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that causes inflammation. With fewer than 1,000 cases in the United States every year, it is a very rare condition. However, that does not make it any less serious. The infection can occur in a number of ways, such as bone surgery or an open fracture. Regardless, most cases see a type of staph bacteria as their source.

Certain conditions can increase an individual’s risk for developing osteomyelitis, including HIV or AIDS, sickle cell disease, diabetes, intravenous drug use, rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral vascular disease, alcoholism, and steroid use. Bone infections can be acute or chronic. Acute cases set in quickly, usually seven to ten days, and are easier to treat. Chronic osteomyelitis often recurs despite treatment. In children, the condition often appears in the bones of the legs or arms. Adults are more likely to be affected in the vertebrae of the spine, the pelvic bones, or the feet.

What are the Symptoms of Osteomyelitis?

Regardless of whether the infection is acute or chronic, most people will experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Swelling around affected bone
  • Limited range of motion
  • Nausea
  • Redness, tenderness, and warmth at the site of infection
  • Severe back pain (for spinal infections)

How is Osteomyelitis Treated?

The first step in treating osteomyelitis is getting a clear idea of what exactly is going on. This may involve the use of blood tests, x-rays, bone scans, and MRIs. A bone biopsy will confirm the diagnosis. These tests will identify which organism is contributing to the infection so doctors can recommend the proper treatments. Since the goal is to stop the infection as quickly as possible, antibiotics are prescribed. The first several weeks are given through an IV before the dosage is switched to a pill. More serious cases – and sometimes chronic infections – could require surgery. Left unchecked, osteomyelitis can spread until amputation is the only solution left to stop it.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
August 16, 2017