What is osteomyelitis?

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Osteomyelitis: Overview

Osteomyelitis (say "aw-stee-oh-my-uh-LY-tus") is a bone infection. It is caused by bacteria that can infect a bone. The bacterial infection can come from an injury, a wound, or a previous surgery. Or it can be carried through the blood from another area in the body.

Osteomyelitis can be a short- or long-term problem. It is treated with antibiotics. You will probably get treatment in the hospital first with antibiotics through a needle in a vein (I.V.) and then take antibiotic pills. The type of treatment depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, the bones affected, and how bad the infection is. Often people need surgery to drain pus from a bone or to fix a damaged bone or joint.

Short-term osteomyelitis that is treated right away usually can be cured. But the long-term form sometimes comes back after treatment. You can help your chances of stopping the infection by taking your medicines as directed.


Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone, often developing from a wound or after an open fracture in which the bone pokes through the skin. It may also develop after an illness or injury that damaged the skin near or over a bone.

Symptoms may include:

  • A general feeling of illness (malaise).
  • Fever, chills, and sweating.
  • Deep bone pain.
  • Pain that is worse when pressing on the infected area or when standing.
  • Swollen and red skin (sometimes) over the affected bone.
  • Drainage of pus from the wound.

Antibiotic treatment is necessary to prevent destruction of bone tissue. If the osteomyelitis is severe, surgery may be required.

How can you care for yourself when you have osteomyelitis?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Do mild exercise and stretching if your doctor says it is okay. This can help keep your bones and muscles healthy. Avoid strenuous work or exercise until your doctor says you can do it.
  • Consider physical therapy if your doctor suggests it. Physical therapy may help you have a normal range of movement.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can slow healing of the infection. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Osteomyelitis: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe bone pain.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You continue to have bone pain.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from a wound.
    • Pus draining from a wound.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.