Skip to main content
Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a painful bone infection. It usually goes away if treated early with antibiotics. If not, it can cause permanent damage.

Osteomyelitis is an infection that usually causes pain in the long bones in the legs.

Other bones, such as those in the back or arms, can also be affected.

Anyone can develop osteomyelitis.

You're more at risk of getting an infection in a bone if you have:

Sometimes an infection in the blood affects the bone.

What happens at your appointment

The GP might be able to diagnose a bone infection without tests.

You might need a blood test, or to go to hospital for:

Osteomyelitis is treated with antibiotics. You may need to stay in hospital to have antibiotics directly into a vein (intravenously).

When you start to get better you might be able to take antibiotic tablets at home.

You'll usually take antibiotics for 4 to 6 weeks. If you have a severe infection, the course may last up to 12 weeks. It's important to finish a course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better.

If the infection is treated quickly (within 3 to 5 days of it starting), it often clears up completely.

You can take painkillers to ease the pain. If the infection is in a long bone (such as an arm or leg), you may be fitted with a splint so you do not move it as often.

You'll usually need an operation if:

If the infection has damaged the bone, you'll need surgery (known as debridement) to remove the damaged part.

Debridement can leave an empty space in the bone, which may be packed with antibiotic dressing.

Sometimes more than one operation is needed to treat the infection. Muscle and skin from another part of the body might be used to repair the area near the affected bone.

It's very important to look after your feet if you have diabetes.

If you have poorly controlled diabetes, you can lose sensation in your feet and not notice small cuts, which could develop into an infection that spreads to the bone.