Symptoms of osteomyelitis 

The most common signs of osteomyelitis are bone pain and a high temperature.

Acute osteomyelitis

Most cases of acute osteomyelitis involve one of the long bones in the legs. However, sometimes the bones in the arm or in the back (the vertebrae) can be affected.

The symptoms of acute osteomyelitis include:

  • a sudden high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above – although children under one year old often don't have this symptom
  • bone pain, which can often be severe
  • swelling, redness and warmth at the site of the infection
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • the affected body part is tender to touch
  • the range of movement in the affected body part is restricted
  • lymph nodes (glands) near the affected body part may be swollen

In teenagers and adults, these symptoms tend to develop within a few weeks of an injury or accident, such as a broken bone.

Young children who cannot talk may be unable to report their painful symptoms to you. You should look out for the following signs:

  • irritability
  • eating much less than usual
  • reluctance to use the affected body part

Chronic osteomyelitis

In cases of chronic osteomyelitis, you are likely to experience similar symptoms to a previous infection.

Once chronic osteomyelitis is established, the person affected may have periods of almost no symptoms. However, symptoms can flare up at any time. For example, you may experience:

  • bone pain
  • feeling persistently tired
  • pus draining from the sinus tract (a passageway that develops near the infected bone)
  • local swelling
  • skin changes
  • excessive sweating
  • chills

When to seek medical advice

You should always visit your GP if you or your child develops a high temperature (fever) and persistent bone pain, or if you are worried about symptoms in a very young child.


Page last reviewed: 21/10/2014

Next review due: 21/10/2016