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Osteomyelitis is an inflammation or swelling of bone tissue that is usually the result of an infection. The condition can affect all populations, but is more common in infants, children, and older adults. Populations at increased risk include individuals with weakened immune systems, recent trauma, or diabetes.

Osteomyelitis can have a sudden onset, a slow to mild onset, or may be a chronic problem, depending on the source of the infection.


Symptoms of osteomyelitis vary, depending on the cause and if it is a rapid or slow onset of infection. They may also resemble other medical conditions or problems. The most common symptoms of osteomyelitis include:

  • Difficulty moving joints near affected area and/or bearing weight
  • Fever that may be high when osteomyelitis occurs as the result of a blood infection
  • Irritability
  • Redness, swelling, warmth, pain, and/or tenderness in the affected area
  • New limp
  • Stiff back (with vertebral involvement)


The goal for treatment of osteomyelitis is to cure the infection and minimize any long-term complications.

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our physicians may recommend a combination of the following treatment options:

  • Administration of intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be necessary. These antibiotics may require hospitalization or may be given on an outpatient schedule. Intravenous or oral antibiotic treatment for osteomyelitis may be very extensive, lasting for many weeks.
  • Bed rest or restricted movement of the affected area
  • Medications
  • Monitoring of successive X-rays and blood tests
  • Pain management
  • Surgery

In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to drain infectious fluid, or to remove damaged tissue and bone.

Osteomyelitis and MRSA

Acute osteomyelitis, a bone infection that predominantly occurs in children, is usually caused by the staph bacteria. Treatment has traditionally been straightforward because most S. aureus bacteria can be killed with existing antibiotics.

Recently, however, more children with osteomyelitis have been developing the more severe, antibiotic-resistant, community-associated MRSA, resulting in more complications and prolonged antibiotic therapy and hospital stays.  

Our infectious disease specialists say osteomyelitis might be more common in children because kids tend to be more accident-prone. Most commonly, the bones get infected when bacteria reach the bone through the blood supply. It is thought that minor trauma to the bone facilitates the start of the infection.

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