Bone and Joint Infections

Bone Infections

A bone infection, also called osteomyelitis, occurs in both children and adults, and can affect any bone in the body. If untreated, it can cause permanent bone deformity. Children usually have an acute form of the disease, while adults are more likely to have chronic osteomyelitis.


Fever, bone pain, swelling and redness over the infection site are symptoms of acute osteomyelitis. A fever is one of the early symptoms of osteomyelitis, and may precede or follow the pain that develops in the infected area of bone. Swelling, redness, warmth and tenderness also occur over the infected bone, and may occur in nearby joints such as the knee, making movement painful. Back pain is a symptom of vertebral osteomyelitis. Other symptoms of acute osteomyelitis may include vomiting, chills and a feeling of general illness or lack of energy.

Pain is the foremost symptom of chronic osteomyelitis. Chronic osteomyelitis can persist for weeks, months or years, although there will be times when the patient does not experience any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they include bone pain, fatigue, general discomfort or an ill feeling, recurring infections in the soft tissue above the bone, and an open, draining wound caused when pus formed in the infected bone breaks through the surface of the skin.


Your physician will conduct an examination and order tests. A blood test may show a high white blood cell count, indicating that your body has launched a counterattack against invading organisms. Following a diagnosis of osteomyelitis, antibiotics will be administered intravenously or by injection. Your physician may consult with orthopedists and surgeons, and you may be admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Recovery from osteomyelitis usually requires extended periods of bed rest. As vigorous activities may interfere with recovery or harm the infected area, normal activities should be resumed gradually according to your doctor’s advice. Pain relievers may be taken as needed, following the recommendation of your doctor.

Infection of the Joint

A septic joint occurs when a bacterial infection occurs in a joint space. A joint is the connection between two bones. Joints include the knee, hip, shoulder and dozens of joints in the spine. Any joint can become infected, but some are more common than others. Septic joints are most common in infants and young children, immunocompromised patients and people with joint replacements.

A bacterial infection of a joint can cause a severe and potentially destructive form of arthritis, often referred to as septic arthritis. Bacterial joint infections can be caused by a number of different organisms and can occur in both natural and artificial joints (e.g., after a knee replacement).

The most common type of joint infection is caused by N. gonorrhoeae, the sexually transmitted bacteria that cause gonorrhea; this is called a gonococcal joint infection. Joint infection with other types of bacteria is called nongonococcal bacterial (septic) arthritis. Infection of an artificial joint is known as prosthetic joint infection.


Symptoms of a septic joint include pain, stiffness and swelling.


Septic joints require urgent treatment. Treatment consists of draining the infection out of the joint space, often surgically, along with intravenous antibiotics.