Osteomyelitis is the medical term for a bone infection, usually caused by bacteria. It most commonly affects the long bones in the legs, but other bones, such as those in the back or arms, can also be affected. The condition is also known to be a common complication of certain health conditions, such as diabetes.

Symptoms  include:

  • A high temperature (fever) of 38oC (100.4F) or above
  • Bone pain, which can often be intense
  • Swelling, redness and a warm sensation in the affected area

The condition can affect people of any age, and it can go unnoticed in very young children, as they do not always develop a fever when they have osteomyelitis and they may not be able to communicate any bone pain. You should see your GP if your child becomes irritable, has a reduced appetite and is reluctant to use a certain part of their body (most often an arm or leg).


Osteomyelitis develops when the bone becomes infected. There are two ways the infection can occur:

  • Following an injury (known as contiguous osteomyelitis) – such as a fractured bone, animal bite or during surgery
  • Via the bloodstream (known as haematogenous osteomyelitis)

Certain things can increase your chances of developing osteomyelitis. For example, if you have a condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of your body, such as diabetes, or a condition that weakens the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis.


If diagnosed early, osteomyelitis can be treated with antibiotics for at least four to six weeks. At first, you may have to stay in hospital to receive antibiotics, but you should be able to take them at home when you start to get better. In severe or chronic cases of osteomyelitis, surgery may be used in combination with antibiotics. Surgery is most often used to remove damaged bone and drain pus from wounds.