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Osteomyelitis in Emergency Medicine Treatment & Management

  • Author: Randall W King, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 15, 2016

Emergency Department Care

Osteomyelitis rarely requires emergent stabilization or resuscitation. The primary challenge for ED physicians is considering the appropriate diagnosis in the face of subtle signs or symptoms.

Treatment for osteomyelitis involves the following:

  • Initiation of intravenous antibiotics that penetrate bone and joint cavities
  • Referral of the patient to an orthopedist or general surgeon
  • Possible medical infectious disease consultation

Select the appropriate antibiotics using direct culture results in samples from the infected site, whenever possible. Empiric therapy is often initiated on the basis of the patient's age and the clinical presentation. Empiric therapy should always include coverage for S aureus and consideration of CA-MRSA. Further surgical management may involve removal of the nidus of infection, implantation of antibiotic beads or pumps, hyperbaric oxygen therapy,[15, 16] or other modalities.

Diagnosis requires 2 of the 4 following criteria:

  • Purulent material on aspiration of affected bone
  • Positive findings of bone tissue or blood culture
  • Localized classic physical findings of bony tenderness, with overlying soft-tissue erythema or edema
  • Positive radiological imaging study


Order an orthopedics, general surgery, or infectious disease consultation, as needed. Patients with diabetic foot osteomyelitis are best cared for by a multidisciplinary team.[17]


Long-Term Monitoring

Patients with vertebral osteomyelitis whose pain resolves after antibiotic treatment or surgery generally do not require repeat MRI.[10, 11]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Randall W King, MD, FACEP Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Toledo College of Medicine; Director, Emergency Medicine Residency Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, Chief Medical Information Officer, Chief of Staff Elect, Mercy St Vincent Medical Center

Randall W King, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors, American Medical Association, Ohio State Medical Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


David Johnson, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Toledo College of Medicine; Chairman, Department of Emergency Services, St Vincent's Mercy Medical Center, Toledo

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Eric L Weiss, MD, DTM&H Medical Director, Office of Service Continuity and Disaster Planning, Fellowship Director, Stanford University Medical Center Disaster Medicine Fellowship, Chairman, SUMC and LPCH Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness Task Force, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Surgery (Emergency Medicine), Stanford University Medical Center

Eric L Weiss, MD, DTM&H is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Medical Association, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Southern Oncology Association of Practices, Southern Clinical Neurological Society, Wilderness Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, University of South Carolina School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Clinical Instructor, Compliance Officer, Department of Emergency Medicine, Palmetto Richland Hospital

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Columbia Medical Society, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, South Carolina Medical Association

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Employed contractor - Chief Editor for Medscape.

Additional Contributors

Dana A Stearns, MD Assistant Director of Undergraduate Education, Department of Emergency Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Director, Undergraduate Clerkship in Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School; Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School

Dana A Stearns, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Osteomyelitis of the elbow. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis of index finger metacarpal head secondary to clenched fist injury. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis of index finger metacarpal head secondary to clenched fist injury. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis of the great toe. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis of T10 secondary to streptococcal disease. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis of diabetic foot. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
Osteomyelitis. Radiography of diabetic foot showing osteomyelitis with gas. Photography by David Effron MD, FACEP.
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