Osteomyelitis in Children

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Osteomyelitis in Children?

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection caused by bacteria or other germs.

What are the alternative names for Osteomyelitis in Children?

Bone infection - children; Infection - bone - children

What are the causes for Osteomyelitis in Children?

A bone infection is most often caused by bacteria. It can also be caused by fungi or other germs. In children, the long bones of the arms or legs are most often involved.

When a child has osteomyelitis:

  • Bacteria or other germs may spread to the bone from infected skin, muscles, or tendons next to the bone. This may occur under a skin sore.
  • The infection can start in another part of the body and spread through the blood to the bone.
  • The infection can be caused by an injury that breaks the skin and bone (open fracture). Bacteria can enter the skin and infect the bone.
  • The infection can also start after bone surgery. This is more likely if the surgery is done after an injury, or if metal rods or plates are placed in the bone.

Other risk factors include:

  • Premature birth or delivery complications in newborns
  • Diabetes
  • Poor blood supply
  • Recent injury
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Infection due to a foreign body
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Human bites or animal bites
  • Weak immune system

What are the symptoms for Osteomyelitis in Children?

Osteomyelitis symptoms include:

  • Bone pain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever and chills
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling (malaise)
  • Local swelling, redness, and warmth
  • Pain at the infection site
  • Swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs
  • Refusing to walk (when leg bones are involved)

Infants with osteomyelitis may not have a fever or other signs of illness. They might avoid moving the infected limb due to pain.

What are the current treatments for Osteomyelitis in Children?

The goal of treatment is to stop the infection and reduce damage to the bone and surrounding tissues.

Antibiotics are given to destroy the bacteria causing the infection:

  • Your child may receive more than one antibiotic at a time.
  • Antibiotics are taken for at least 4 to 6 weeks, often at home through an IV (intravenously, meaning through a vein).

Surgery may be needed to remove dead bone tissue if the child has an infection that does not go away.

  • If there are metal plates near the infection, they may need to be removed.
  • The open space left by the removed bone tissue may be filled with bone graft or packing material. This promotes the growth of new bone tissue.

If your child was treated in the hospital for osteomyelitis, be sure to follow the provider's instructions on how to care for your child at home.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Osteomyelitis in Children?

With treatment, the outcome for acute osteomyelitis is usually good.

The outlook is worse for those with long-term (chronic) osteomyelitis. Symptoms may come and go for years, even with surgery.

When should I contact a medical professional for Osteomyelitis in Children?

Call your child's provider if:

  • Your child develops symptoms of osteomyelitis
  • Your child has osteomyelitis and the symptoms continue, even with treatment


Dabov GD. Osteomyelitis. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 21.

Kaplan SL. Osteomyelitis. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 684.

Krogstad P. Osteomyelitis. In: Cherry JD, Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL, Steinbach WJ, Hotez PJ, eds. Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 55.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Osteoid Osteomas
  • Journal: Journal of orthopaedic surgery (Hong Kong)
  • Treatment Used: Radiofrequency Ablation
  • Number of Patients: 55
  • Published —
The study researched the safety and effectiveness of radiofrequency ablation in treating osteoid osteomas.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Children with Acute Osteomyelitis of the Distal Fibula
  • Journal: Archives de pediatrie : organe officiel de la Societe francaise de pediatrie
  • Treatment Used: Surgical Debridement of the Subperiosteal Abscess without Bone Trepanation
  • Number of Patients: 7
  • Published —
This study evaluated the outcome in children with acute osteomyelitis (infection of bone) of the distal fibula (a bone on the outside of the lower leg) treated with surgical debridement (removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue) of the subperiosteal abscess (spread of cellulitis) without bone trepanation (making a hole in the bone).