The Causes & Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

As mentioned on our site page dedicated to complex reconstructions, a condition that may lead a patient to require a complex reconstruction is osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone, and it can affect virtually any bone in the body. When a bone infection occurs, many individuals require surgery to remove any affected areas of bone, followed by a regimen of strong antibiotics until the infection is completely treated.

While osteomyelitis can now be treated, many patients do not know how these infections occur, what the risk factors are, and what symptoms present themselves at the outset of a bone infection. In this blog, we’d like to address all of these points. If you believe you may be suffering from osteomyelitis, we encourage you to reach out to a medical professional as soon as you can.

Causes & Risk Factors


While the definition of osteomyelitis is simple enough, an infection in a bone, how that infection is caused is much more varied. Often, the infection reaches a bone through the bloodstream. In other instances, it spreads from nearby infected tissue. In more rare cases, a situation in which a bone was exposed to germs (like in a surgical setting), can result in osteomyelitis. 

Most cases of this bone infection are caused by staphylococcus bacteria. As we mentioned, this bacteria can reach a bone in numerous ways. Joint replacement surgery, which inherently involves exposed bone, can result in an infection in a small percentage of cases. Injuries, especially severe puncture injuries or injuries resulting in exposed bone, can also deliver the bacteria. Finally, bacteria can be carried through your bloodstream to a weakened area of bone, resulting in an infection.

Risk Factors:

Bone infections are unique because bones are typically very resistant to bacteria. So, when osteomyelitis occurs, it’s usually due to a risk factor that weakened a bone in the first place. We briefly discussed how injuries and surgeries can cause this, but severe animal bites can also lead to a bone infection. In addition to surgical procedures, an infection can also occur because of germs on medical tubing, such as catheters, dialysis machines, and more.

From severe diabetes to cancer treatment and more, anything that suppresses the immune system will make a bone more vulnerable to infection.

Conditions that affect the immune system are also risk factors for osteomyelitis. From severe diabetes to cancer treatment and more, anything that suppresses the immune system will make a bone more vulnerable to infection. And like most infections, illicit drug use, especially involving needles, can lead to osteomyelitis.

Lastly, one of the most common causes of bone infection is a circulation disorder. Again, diabetes can be the culprit here, as well as artery diseases related to smoking, and sickle cell disease.


Though the causes and risk factors of osteomyelitis are varied, the list of symptoms is fairly short and very common. For this reason, it’s difficult for individuals to properly identify a bone infection, especially in older individuals. 

The most obvious symptom is bone pain, whether it occurs in a bone or in a joint. The key symptoms to look out for beyond bone pain include fatigue, pain & swelling near the bone/joint in question, and most importantly, fever. 

Fever or warmth near the area of bone/joint pain is the most critical symptom to look for. Warming of the body of this nature typically occurs when the body is attempting to fight an infection, so when worsening bone/joint pain is paired with warmth, an infection of the bone may be likely.

If you meet one or many of the risk factors of osteomyelitis and are experiencing bone/joint pain coupled with fever, we urge you to schedule a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Like most infections, early diagnosis and treatment are key to recovery and a return to a higher quality of life. 

Osteomyelitis can be complicated to treat and requires a team of doctors that regularly treat bone & joint infections. Greater Dallas Orthopaedics’ surgeons treat thousands of patients with bone & joint infections and infected joint replacements every year. No other team in the region has more experience with these procedures than GDO.