Certain bacteria cause osteomyelitis. Bacteria can reach the bone through:

  • The bloodstream—blood can spread infection to other sites
  • A deep cut that exposes the bone to bacteria on the top of the skin
  • An infection in nearby tissue such as a skin ulcer

Risk Factors

Osteomyelitis is more common in adolescents and young adults. The risk of infection is also higher in people with one or more of the following:

  • Poor blood flow
  • Injured bones or skin
  • A recent joint surgery, including fixing a broken bone
  • A soft tissue infection
  • A weakened immune system
  • A catheter to drain urine
  • An IV to receive medicine
  • Pressure injuries



Osteomyelitis may cause:

  • Fever or chills
  • Bone pain
  • Soreness, warmth, swelling, or redness of the skin or joint
  • Drainage of pus
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Problems moving an area
  • A sore over a bone that does not heal
Skin Infection Spreading to Bone
Bone Infection
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The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests will be done to look for signs of infection, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Samples taken from an infected area
  • Bone biopsy

Image tests may be done to see how much tissue is affected. Tests may include:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Bone scan
  • PET/CT scan



Antibiotics will be given to treat the infection. It can take more than 6 weeks to improve.

Surgery may be needed if medicine does not help or if the infected bone has artificial hardware. Dead or infected tissue and bone will be removed.


There are no current guidelines to prevent osteomyelitis.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.