Our bodies naturally protect themselves from many kinds of bacteria and viruses. Although may get sick from time to time, we usually heal with rest, home care and, perhaps, a round of antibiotics. But in rare cases, germs can infect one of your bones. This is a condition known as osteomyelitis.

It’s important to seek care from doctors who have experience identifying osteomyelitis. That’s because symptoms are the same as many other medical problems. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, osteomyelitis can lead to bone death or limb amputation.

Understanding Osteomyelitis

Our bones are usually resistant to infection. But certain circumstances and risk factors make them more susceptible to germs. These include:

  • Complications from joint replacement surgery. While any surgical procedure poses a risk of infection, artificial joint implants can also become contaminated by bacteria. The infection can spread from the implant to the attached bone.
  • Poor blood circulation. People whose blood vessels are damaged by diabetes or other diseases have a harder time fighting infections.
  • Long-term IV or catheter use. People who rely on urinary catheters or other types of medical equipment have a higher risk of infection. Germs can travel from outside the body through catheters, IV lines and dialysis tubes.
  • Infections elsewhere in your body. If you’re sick with a urinary tract infection or other illness, germs may travel through your bloodstream and enter a weak section of bone.
  • Deep puncture wounds. Animal bites and other wounds can penetrate deep, injuring muscle and bone and exposing them to germs.
  • Broken bones. It’s easier for germs to enter a broken bone, especially if your bone breaks the skin and is exposed to the environment.

Symptoms of osteomyelitis include:

  • Bone pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Redness, warmth or swelling at the infection site

Mercy’s orthopedic specialists have the training and experience necessary to distinguish osteomyelitis from other medical conditions.

Osteomyelitis Treatment at Mercy

Osteomyelitis is often curable, but the treatment process can be long and intense. Depending on the cause and severity of your infection, your treatments may include:

  • Intravenous antibiotics, which are usually taken for four to six weeks
  • Surgery to remove sections of diseased or dead bone
  • Surgery to remove artificial joints or screws that have been contaminated. You may need joint revision surgery to replace infected implants with new ones
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used along with medication and surgery to help kill bacteria and support wound or bone healing
  • Amputation may be required to remove an extremely diseased bone and prevent the infection from spreading

It’s natural to feel frightened or worried while you’re fighting osteomyelitis. But with time and patience – and the right blend of medical and emotional support – most people overcome it. And you can rest assured that our orthopedic team will be with you every step of the way.


View All Results View All Results