Bone and Joint Infection

Bone and joint infections (osteomyelitis and septic arthritis) occur much more commonly in children than in adults, with the majority of cases occurring in children under the age of 5. Our team understands these infections. Our goal is to provide the best treatment options to help children get back to doing what they love.

Causes of bone infection

Bacteria in the blood is very common in childhood. This can result from other infections, such as from the ear, nose, and throat, or it can be from simply brushing the teeth. Most of the time, the immune system wins, and the bacteria is cleared from the blood. But if there is a large amount of bacteria in the blood and it is strong enough, it can infect the bone.

Causes of joint infection

The causes of joint infections are not understood as well. Most of the time, the immune system and the joint can eliminate bacterial infection before it overwhelms the body, but if the bacteria is particularly strong and/or large in number, then it may overwhelm the joint and cause an infection.

In addition, an infection from a bone can cross into a joint. This commonly occurs in four locations – the hip, shoulder, elbow, and ankle.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of a bone or joint infection in children is not always simple.

Children will usually have fever and either a limp on the extremity affected, refuse to move the limb, or refuse to walk at all. Most children are swollen and tender at the site of the infection, and the area may be warm.

If the child’s joint is infected, movement may be extremely painful. A combination of blood tests may be helpful in diagnosing the infection. An MRI may also be necessary to identify the exact location of the infection.

Treatment

Like other infections, antibiotics are the primary treatment. If the infection involves a child’s joint, then surgery may be necessary to “clean out” the joint to prevent cartilage damage. If the infection involves the bone, surgery may be necessary as well.

Antibiotics are initially given through an IV. Once the infection shows significant improvement, your doctor may switch to antibiotics taken by mouth. It is extremely important in the case of joint infections to begin physical therapy immediately to help your child move his joint, as it can become permanently stiff very quickly.

Prognosis

If infections are treated promptly, there are often no long term consequences. However, infections can weaken bone, at least temporarily, and this puts your child at risk for fracture until the bone becomes strong again. For joint infections, cartilage damage can be permanent and lead to pain and future arthritis. It is very important for your child to continue seeing the doctor to help identify potential problems early.