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About Your Diagnosis

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone, bone marrow, and soft tissue surrounding the bone. The infection is usually caused by a staphylococcal infection, but other bacteria can be responsible. The bacteria can obtain access to the bone through the bloodstream from a compound fracture or other trauma, a boil or any break in the skin, a middle ear infection, or pneumonia. Osteomyelitis is curable with prompt treatment.

Living With Your Diagnosis

Signs and symptoms include fever; pain, swelling, warmth, and redness over the infected bone or nearby joint; and pus draining through a skin abscess. Possible complications include the formation of an abscess that will not heal until the underlying bone heals, and permanent stiffness of the nearby joint.


A doctor's treatment is necessary. Hospitalization may be needed to drain the abscess or to give high doses of antibiotics intravenously. Large doses of antibiotics will be needed, generally for a period of 8—10 weeks. Side effects of the antibiotics may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness. Pain relievers may be needed, which may also cause stomach upset and constipation.

Keep the affected limb at rest, slightly elevated and immobilized with pillows. No weight-bearing should be placed on the lower limb if it is affected. If prolonged bed rest is needed, continue to actively exercise the other limbs and change position frequently.

The DOs
  • Take the antibiotics until finished.
  • Increase your fluid intake:
  • Maintain a diet high in calories, protein, calcium, and vitamin C to promote bone healing.
  • If you are on bedrest, change position frequently to prevent pressure sores. Check skin for any redness at the pressure points.
  • Do frequent isometric exercises to prevent muscle weakness and maintain joint flexibility,
  • Increase normal activities gradually after symptoms subside.
  • Use sterile dressings if an open would is present. Wash hands before and after changing dressings. If family members are unsure of wound care, request a visiting nurse until comfortable with treatment.
The DON'Ts
  • Don't Skip doses or stop taking antibiotics until finished.
  • Don't dangle the affected limb. Keep it slightly elevated.
  • Don't bear weight if the affected area is your leg. Crutches may be of help for trips to the bathroom.
When to Call Your Doctor
  • If fever increases during treatment.
  • If pain becomes intolerable.
  • If an abscess forms over the affected area.
  • If drainage increases from an existing abscess.
  • If side effects from the medications become severe.
For More Information
National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders of the NIH
Internet Site

Development of osteomyelitis infection. (From Lewis SM, Collier IC, Heitkemper MM: Medical- Surgical Nursing: Assessment and Management of Clinical Problem, ed 4, St. Louis, Mosby—Year Book, 1995. Used by permission.)


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