What is Osteomyelitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Definition: Osteomyelitis is a severe infection of the bone that needs immediate treatment with antibiotics. Generally, surgery is necessary if the condition becomes severe or persistent.

Main causes of Osteomyelitis

Different types of germs (bacteria) can cause Osteomyelitis. However, infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is the most common cause.

Infection by a fungus is a rare cause. The most common cause in children is through the bloodstream. Bacteria sometimes enter the blood from an infection in another part of the body and then travel to the bone. Even if you are healthy, bacteria can sometimes get through the blood in your nose or intestine.

Following an injury. Bacteria can spread to the bones if you have a deep cut on the skin.

What bones can be affected?

The long bones of the leg (femur, tibia, and fibula) are the most commonly affected. However, Osteomyelitis can affect any bone (although it is scarce in some of them).

What are the symptoms of Osteomyelitis?

  • Pain and sensitivity in a bone area.
  • A knot can develop into a bone.
  • Reddening of the skin that covers it may develop.
  • The sensation of general malaise with fever (high temperature).
  • If Osteomyelitis produces after a fracture of a bone, symptoms include increased redness, swelling, and pain around the fracture site. Pus can come out of the skin wound more than a fracture.

Are tests needed? Tests to confirm the diagnosis.

If you have the typical symptoms that come from an infection of a leg bone, then the diagnosis can be pretty straightforward.

However, pain from deeper bones such as the spine or pelvis can be due to several causes. Magnetic resonance of the cord will help confirm the diagnosis. (A simple x-ray is not as valuable for the early stages of Osteomyelitis).


The blood usually contains some bacteria from the bone infection. Blood samples are sent to the laboratory to identify what bacteria are causing the infection. This is important, as it will help you decide the best treatment. (Since some bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics).

If the blood tests show no bacteria, then a small sample (biopsy) of the affected bone must be sent to the laboratory.

If the infection of the bone is through the skin and pus is present, aspiration will be performed to analyze it to identify the type of bacteria.

What is the treatment of Osteomyelitis? Antibiotics

Treatment with antibiotics usually starts as soon as possible. However, sometimes you can switch to a different antibiotic when the test results confirm the bacteria causing the infection. (Some bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics.)

Symptoms can be resolved relatively quickly after you start taking an antibiotic. You may have to take the medication for 4 to 6 weeks, but if you have a severe infection, the course may last up to twelve weeks. This is to ensure that the disease has not passed to other bones.

Analgesics can be given to control pain, and if you have an infection in a long bone (such as an arm or a leg), the patient may be conditioned to use a splint to restrict movement.