Treating osteomyelitis 

Osteomyelitis can be treated with antibiotics, although surgery may also be used in severe cases.

Treating acute osteomyelitis

Antibiotics

Acute osteomyelitis, if diagnosed quickly, can be successfully treated using a course of antibiotics for at least four to six weeks.

For part of the treatment you will need to take the medicine intravenously (directly into a vein), usually while in hospital. If you are well enough, you may be able to receive injections as an outpatient, so you can go home the same day.

After your symptoms start to improve, a switch is usually made to antibiotic tablets you can take at home.

In cases of osteomyelitis, there is a choice of antibiotics available to treat the infection and two antibiotics are often used in combination. This is known as dual therapy.

Occasionally, the bacteria causing the infection are resistant to standard antibiotics and antibiotics that are used less frequently are needed.

All antibiotics have side effects, which you should discuss with your GP or the doctor in charge of your care.

Read information about a specific medication in the osteomyelitis medicines guide.

Other medication

In rare cases where a fungal infection has caused osteomyelitis, antifungal medications are used.

Painkillers may also be used if the condition is causing you discomfort.

Treating chronic osteomyelitis

People with chronic osteomyelitis will usually require a combination of antibiotics and surgery. Surgery may be used to remove bone, to drain pus from a wound or abscess, or to remove and replace a joint replacement if it was the cause of infection.

If there is extensive bone damage, it will be necessary to surgically remove any diseased bone and tissue. This procedure is known as debridement.

Debridement can often leave an empty space in the bone, which is sometimes packed with antibiotic-loaded material. Occasionally, multiple operations are needed to treat the infection.

In some cases, it may also be necessary to transfer muscle and skin from another part of the body to repair the tissue surrounding the affected bone.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Some researchers have argued that a type of non-surgical treatment called hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be useful in treating cases of both acute and chronic osteomyelitis that do not respond to conventional treatment.

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you are placed in a specially designed chamber, similar to a decompression chamber used by divers.

The chamber is filled with oxygen, administered at a much higher pressure (hyperbaric) than the normal level of oxygen in the atmosphere. The high levels of oxygen are thought to speed up the healing process and slow the spread of infection.

There is currently only limited evidence supporting the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treating osteomyelitis. From the evidence available, it would appear it is most effective in treating osteomyelitis associated with a diabetic foot ulcer. 

However, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that oxygen therapy should only be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers as part of a clinical trial.


Page last reviewed: 21/10/2014

Next review due: 21/10/2016