Osteomyelitis is a rare but serious condition in which bone tissue becomes infected. It usually occurs when infection in one part of the body spreads through the bloodstream into the bone, or a fracture or orthopaedic surgery exposes the bone to bacteria.

Having diabetes, undergoing frequent injections of medicine or having a compromised immune system can increase the risk of getting this type of infection.

While osteomyelitis can affect anyone, it’s more common in infants, children and older adults. In infants and children, it’s usually seen in long bones such as the thighbone (femur) or upper arm bone (humerus). In adults, it often affects the bones of the spine.

The symptoms of osteomyelitis can include fever, bone pain, tenderness and redness in the affected area, fatigue, and just generally feeling ill.

Treatment for osteomyelitis depends on the severity of the infection. It generally involves several weeks of intravenous antibiotic therapy and surgery. Surgery may include a procedure to drain pus from the infected area, removal of diseased bone and tissue, or even amputation of the affected limb.

Since osteomyelitis symptoms can mimic other conditions, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you experience bone pain that gets worse along with fever. Plus, if you’re at higher risk of infection due to a medical condition or recent surgery, see your doctor right away if you notice signs of an infection.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Osteomyelitis

Cooper has a team of board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopaedics and infectious disease specialists with extensive experience in managing osteomyelitis. They work closely together to treat this condition. You can count on us for:

  • Advanced expertise: As South Jersey’s only tertiary care facility, we see the region’s most complex cases—a level of expertise you simply won’t find anyplace else in this area
  • Personalized treatment: Treatment is carefully tailored your age, general health, lifestyle, and severity of your osteomyelitis
  • Multidisciplinary resources: As the region’s only academic health system, Cooper is home to experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.

Causes and Risk Factors for Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is caused by a bacterial infection that gets into bone tissue. It can occur when germs in one part of the body (in the bladder from a urinary tract infection, for example) travel through the bloodstream into the bone, or a broken bone (fracture) or surgery exposes the bone to bacteria.

Other situations that can increase your risk of getting osteomyelitis include:

  • Having diabetes or other condition that impairs circulation, which prevents infection-fighting cells from reaching a small infection before it grows
  • Having health problems that require intravenous lines or catheters (as with dialysis or urinary catheters)
  • Having a weak immune system, which can result from having HIV, getting cancer treatment or taking corticosteroids

Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

The most common symptoms of osteomyelitis are:

  • Fever
  • Warmth, redness and swelling at the infection site
  • Bone pain in the affected area
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Limping, or trouble bearing weight if a leg is affected
  • Back stiffness if the spine is affected
  • General malaise (feeling ill)

Some people have no symptoms at all, or the symptoms can be confused with other health issues. That’s why it’s important to seek medical attention promptly.

Treating Osteomyelitis

The goal of treating osteomyelitis is to cure the infection and minimize the possibility of any long-term complications. While treatment is tailored to your individual situation, including the severity of your infection, it generally includes:

  • Medication: You will likely receive intravenous antibiotics for several weeks; this may require a hospital stay, or it may be done on an outpatient basis. This may be followed by a course of oral antibiotics, if necessary.
    • Prior to starting antibiotic therapy, a bone biopsy will be performed to identify the specific germ causing your infection so your doctor can select the most appropriate antibiotic to fight it
    • You may also receive pain-relieving medication.
  • Surgery: One or more procedures may be required to treat your infection, depending on how severe it is. These procedures may include:
    • Drainage: Your surgeon will open up the area around the infected bone and drain any fluid that has accumulated due to the infection
    • Debridement: This is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon removes as much of the diseased bone as possible. Any surrounding tissue that shows signs of infection may also be removed.
    • Bone or tissue graft: This helps to restore blood flow to the bone. It involves filling any space left by debridement with a piece of bone or tissue from another part of your body; this graft helps your body repair damaged blood vessels and grow new bone.
    • Removal of previous surgical fixation devices: Sometimes, surgical plates, pins or screws placed during a previous surgery must be removed
    • Limb amputation: In severe cases, amputation may be necessary to prevent your infection from spreading further

Make an Appointment With an Osteomyelitis Specialist at Cooper

To learn more about the resources available for treating osteomyelitis at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737)