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Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. The infection may be:

  • Acute—for a short time
  • Chronic—lasting for a long time

In adults, the pelvis and the bones of the back are the most common sites. In children, the long bones are most likely to be affected. These are found in the arms and legs.


Osteomyelitis is caused by specific bacteria.

Risk Factors  

Osteomyelitis is more common in males, or in young children and older adults. Other factors that increase your chance of osteomyelitis include:

  • Trauma or injury to the bone and skin
  • Broken bones, especially if open to or sticking through the skin
  • Soft tissue infection
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney dialysis
  • IV drug abuse
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor circulation
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Any operation on a joint or bone, such as a hip replacement or internal fixation of a fracture


Symptoms include:

  • Bone pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Tenderness, warmth, swelling, or redness of the skin or joint
  • Drainage of pus
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Restricted movement of the area
  • A sore over a bone that does not heal


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Bone biopsy

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • Bone scan
  • CT scan or MRI scan


The affected area may be treated with a splint to prevent it from moving. Avoiding weight bearing activities may also be advised.


This infection is treated with antibiotics. They are given by IV and sometimes by mouth. Acute osteomyelitis is generally treated for at least 4-6 weeks. Chronic osteomyelitis may require antibiotics for a longer period of time.


Surgery may be required to:

  • Clean infected bone via scraping and irrigating the area
  • Remove any fragments of dead bone or tissue that may prolong the infection

In severe cases, amputation may be necessary.

Skin Graft 

In some situations, your doctor may recommend a skin graft. The skin in the affected area is replaced with healthy skin taken from another part of your body.


To reduce your risk of getting osteomyelitis:

  • Seek immediate medical care for infections or injuries.
  • Keep diabetes under good control.
  • Do not use illegal drugs.
  • See your doctor for any sores that do not heal.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.


Make an appointment at our Infectious Disease Clinic.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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