Osteomyelitis is the medical termfor a bone infection, usually caused by bacteria.

Osteomyelitis most commonly affects the long bones in the legs, but other bones, such as those in the back or arms, can also be affected.

Symptoms of osteomyelitis may include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • bone pain, which can often be intense
  • swelling, redness anda warm sensationin the affected area

You should see your GP if your child becomes irritable, has a reduced appetite and is reluctant to use a certain part of their body (most often an arm or leg).

Why does osteomyelitis happen?

Osteomyelitis develops when the bone becomes infected. In most cases, bacteria is responsible for the infection, although it can also be caused by fungi.

Blood tests and a biopsy may be used to determine whether you have an infection and what caused it.

For example, if you have a condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of your body, such as diabetes , or a condition that weakens the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis .

Osteomyelitis is also known to be a common complication of certain health conditions. For example:

  • 30-40% of people with diabetes who experience a puncture injury to their foot will develop osteomyelitis
  • less than one in every 200 people with sickle cell anaemia will develop osteomyelitis in any given year

Osteomyelitis canbecome chronic osteomyelitis if not treated quickly, as the bones can become permanently damaged, resulting in persistent pain and loss of function.

At first, you may have to stay in hospital to receive antibiotics, but you should be able to take them at home when you start to get better.

In severe or chronic cases of osteomyelitis, surgery may be used in combination with antibiotics. Surgery is most often used to remove damaged bone and drain pus from wounds.

This is because underlying conditions that often cause osteomyelitis, such as poor circulation or a weakened immune system, can be difficult to treat.


If the blood supply to the bone is severely reduced, this can cause the tissue to die ( gangrene ). Amputation may be used as a last resort if gangrene develops.

However, the condition can usually be treated before it reaches this stage.

Preventing osteomyelitis

It's not always possible to avoid getting osteomyelitis. But there are steps you can take to reduce your chances.

Cleaning wounds thoroughly with water and dressing them in a clean bandage will reduce your chances of getting an infection from an injury.

Improving your general health will help reduce the risk of developing conditions that can lead to osteomyelitis.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 24 Jun 2016