Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


Osteomyelitis, an infection of bone, can be caused by various microorganisms that arrive at bone through different routes. Spontaneous hematogenous osteomyelitis may occur in otherwise healthy individuals, whereas local microbial spread mainly affects either individuals who have underlying disease (e.g., vascular insufficiency) or patients who have compromised skin or other tissue barriers, with consequent exposure of bone. The latter situation typically follows surgery involving bone, such as sternotomy or orthopedic repair.

The manifestations of osteomyelitis are different in children and adults. In children circulating microorganisms seed mainly long bones, whereas in adults the vertebral column is the most commonly affected site.

Management of osteomyelitis differs greatly depending on whether an implant is involved. The most important aim of the management of either type of osteomyelitis is to prevent progression to chronic osteomyelitis by rapid diagnosis and prompt treatment. Device-related bone and joint infection necessitates a multidisciplinary approach requiring antibiotic therapy and, in many cases, surgical removal of the device. The optimal duration of antibiotic treatment has not been established for any type of osteomyelitis in clinical trials. Therefore, the recommendations for therapy in this chapter reflect only expert opinions.


There is no generally accepted, comprehensive system for classification of osteomyelitis, primarily because of the multifaceted presentation of this infection. Different specialists are confronted with different facets of bone disease. Most often, however, general practitioners or internists are the first to encounter patients with the initial signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis. These primary care physicians should be able to recognize this disease in any of its forms. Osteomyelitis cases can be classified by various criteria, including pathogenesis, duration of infection, location of infection, and presence or absence of foreign material. The widely used Cierny-Mader staging system classifies osteomyelitis according to anatomic site, comorbidity, and radiographic findings, with stratification of long-bone osteomyelitis to optimize surgical management; this system encompasses both systemic and local factors affecting immune status, metabolism, and local vascularity.

Any of three mechanisms can underlie osteomyelitis: (1) hematogenous spread; (2) spread from a contiguous site following surgery; and (3) secondary infection in the setting of vascular insufficiency or concomitant neuropathy. Hematogenous osteomyelitis in adults typically involves the vertebral column. In only about half of patients can a primary focus be detected. The most common primary foci of infection are the urinary tract, skin/soft tissue, intravascular catheterization sites, and the endocardium. Spread from a contiguous source follows either bone trauma or surgical intervention. Wound infection leading to osteomyelitis typically occurs after cardiovascular intervention involving the sternum, orthopedic repair, or prosthetic joint insertion. Osteomyelitis secondary to vascular insufficiency or peripheral neuropathy most often follows chronic, progressively deep skin and soft tissue infection of the foot. The most common underlying condition is diabetes. In diabetes that is poorly controlled, the diabetic foot syndrome is caused by skin, soft tissue, and bone ischemia combined with motor, sensory, ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.