Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis are two types of infections usually caused by bacteria that affect your musculoskeletal system.
Septic arthritis is an infection of the lining and fluid of one or more of your joints. Osteomyelitis is an infection of your bone tissue. Both conditions can be life threatening if you don’t receive treatment quickly.
Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between osteomyelitis and septic arthritis.
|pain and swelling in one or more joints
|pain in one of your long bones, usually a few inches from the end
|most common locations
|large joints like your hip or knee
|upper and lower leg bones
Here’s a look at the symptoms of osteomyelitis and septic arthritis.
The most common location for osteomyelitis to develop is the metaphysis, the part of the bone where the long, narrow shaft meets the wider base.
Your femur and tibia are the bones most commonly affected, which are your upper leg bone and shin bone, respectively.
Symptoms may include:
- pain near the infection
- pus or drainage if you have an open wound
- limited range of motion in nearby joints
- fever, which can rise as high as 104–105°F (40–40.6°C)
- general feeling of unwellness (malaise)
Septic arthritis symptoms
Symptoms can include:
Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis are both most often caused by bacterial infections.
This infection may develop due to:
- spread of bacteria through your bloodstream
- bacteria that access the bone directly, often through surgical or traumatic injury
- a complication of diabetic foot infection
Risk factors include:
Septic arthritis causes
An infection of your joint fluid and lining causes septic arthritis. The most common cause in children and adults is the bacterium
Similar to osteomyelitis, the infection can spread from your bloodstream or from bacteria that enter your joint through an injury.
Risk factors for septic arthritis include:
Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis both require quick treatment to avoid complications. It’s critical to get medical attention if you develop sharp pain in your joint or along your bone that onsets quickly without an obvious injury.
This is especially the case if you also have other signs of an infection, such as:
The main test for osteomyelitis is a
For septic arthritis, the most useful test is arthrocentesis, when your doctor takes a
Blood tests and imaging can provide supportive evidence of your infection and also allow doctors to see the extent of bone or joint damage.
Imaging tests you might receive include:
Here’s a look at the treatment options for osteomyelitis and septic arthritis.
Healthcare professionals primarily treat osteomyelitis with surgical debridement and antibiotics if the infection is bacterial.
Debridement is the surgical removal of dead or infected tissue. You may require reconstruction of your bone if a large portion of the bone needs removal.
You may need to take oral antibiotics at home or take antibiotics through an IV in the hospital. Severe infections might require antibiotics for as long as 12 weeks.
The mortality rate for osteomyelitis can be as high as 20%.
Septic arthritis treatment
Septic arthritis needs prompt treatment to minimize joint damage.
Healthcare professionals often administer antibiotics through an IV if bacteria cause the infection. You’ll likely receive antifungals if a fungus causes the infection. The average hospital stay is about 2 weeks.
You may also need a procedure to remove fluid buildup from your joint or surgical debridement to remove dead tissue. You’ll likely receive antibiotics to take orally after you leave the hospital for at least several weeks.
Ways you might be able to prevent osteomyelitis and septic arthritis include:
- avoiding situations that put you at risk of puncture wounds
- avoiding sharing injection equipment
- using barrier methods when having sex to avoid gonorrhea infection
- treating risk factors such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes
- supporting your immune system by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and practicing appropriate hygiene habits
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about osteomyelitis and septic arthritis.
What is the most common cause of septic arthritis?
The most common cause of septic arthritis is infection with the bacteria
Is osteomyelitis the same as sepsis?
Osteomyelitis is an infection of bone tissue. Sepsis is an extreme immune reaction to an infection that can cause life threatening complications.
Can you have osteomyelitis and septic arthritis at the same time?
Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis can occur at the same time if the infection spreads to both the joint tissue and bone.
Bacterial infections usually cause osteomyelitis and septic arthritis. Osteomyelitis is an infection of your bone whereas septic arthritis is an infection of one of your joints.
Both infections require prompt medical attention to avoid potentially life threatening complications. It’s important to get medical attention if you develop symptoms such as sharp joint or bone pain, fever, chills, or fatigue.