What is bacterial joint inflammation?

Bacterial joint inflammation is a serious and painful infection in a joint. It’s also known as bacterial or septic arthritis. Bacteria can get into your joint and cause rapid cartilage deterioration and bone damage. This can lead to significant pain, swelling, redness, and loss of movement.

You can usually make a full recovery with early medical intervention. However, any delay of treatment could lead to permanent joint disability and even septic shock.

The bacteria that cause bacterial joint inflammation can enter your body through your:

  • skin
  • eyes
  • ears
  • mouth
  • nose
  • mucous membranes

Some of the types of bacteria that can cause this infection include:

Bacterial joint inflammation can affect anyone at any age. However, it most commonly affects the very young and the very old. Some other risk factors include:

  • previous joint surgery or an artificial implant
  • rheumatoid arthritis and medications for this condition
  • lupus
  • gout
  • regularly injecting drugs
  • psoriasis or eczema
  • thin skin or wounds on the skin
  • weakened immune system
  • taking medications that suppress immune functioning
  • another bacterial infection in the body, such as a respiratory infection
  • unprotected sex
  • gum disease or periodontal surgery
  • diabetes mellitus
  • smoking
  • recurrent or chronic urinary infections

The type of bacterium causing your infection determines your symptoms. General symptoms of bacterial joint inflammation happen quickly. They may include:

  • elevated body temperature
  • pain in a joint
  • swelling and redness
  • warm skin over the joint
  • lack of appetite
  • fatigue
  • elevated heart rate

Children usually experience bacterial joint inflammation in their hips and shoulders. Adults tend to notice joint pain in their arms, legs, and particularly the knees. The back and neck are less commonly affected.

Get medical assistance immediately if you think you have bacterial joint inflammation. Early diagnosis and treatment will improve your outlook.

Your doctor will examine you and take a thorough medical history. Your doctor might ask you about recent travel, daily activities, and your work environment.

The following medical tests can help them make a diagnosis:

  • blood tests to detect the presence of harmful bacteria
  • joint X-ray to assess the extent of joint and cartilage damage
  • joint fluid sampling to determine the type of bacterial infection

Sampling fluid from the affected joint will help pinpoint the type of bacterial infection causing the inflammation. Joint fluid is typically transparent and thick. A bacterial infection will usually change its appearance.

Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic after they identify the bacterium causing the infection. You might receive antibiotics intravenously so the medication flows directly into your bloodstream. Your doctor may follow up by giving you an oral antibiotic. Antibiotic treatment might take 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the type of bacterial infection you have and your overall medical condition.

Your doctor might drain the fluid around the joint. This helps reduce pressure and eliminate harmful bacteria. Often, this is done via arthroscopy. This procedure involves using tubes to drain and suction fluid. Arthrocentesis is another way to eliminate fluid. This procedure involves penetrating the joint area with a needle. In some cases, the joint must be irrigated and debrided during an open procedure.

Follow your doctor’s instructions if they recommend exercising or moving the joint. Rotating or moving the joint can prevent stiffness and weakness and help promote blood flow for healing. Physical therapy or other rehabilitation can also help with recovery.

Other treatments involve over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications to reduce any swelling and discomfort. Resting the affected area, elevating the joint, and applying warm or cold compresses might also help ease the pain and inflammation. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to recover.

Always seek prompt medical assistance for any suspected infection. This can help reduce your risk of developing bacterial joint inflammation. People with a high risk of septic arthritis can discuss taking preventive antibiotics with their doctors.

Getting treatment quickly makes a big impact on your long-term outlook. You can usually expect to make a full recovery if you receive treatment within a week of the onset of symptoms. Without treatment, you may experience loss of joint function, joint degeneration, infection in other parts of your body, or even septic shock.