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Osteomyelitis of the Spine – An Overview

  • Category: Spine Conditions
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: DR. HAMID ABBASI
Osteomyelitis of the Spine – An Overview

Everything you need to know is right in the name. Osteo- is the medical word (prefix in this case) which refers to the bone. Myel refers to the spinal cord or anything to do with the spine whilst it is commonly referred to inflammation (for instance bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi). If we put this together we get BONE spine inflammation of inflammation of the boney part of the spine. This inflammation is almost always caused by an infection in the case of osteomyelitis – that is to say a microorganism, often a bacteria infects the patients and causes the inflammation.

What are the Symptoms of Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is usually a very serious infection and signs of it should not be missed. But what symptoms would you expect to find in a patient with an infection in spine bone? Spinal infection symptoms include localized bone pain (ie the pain is specific to the bone and not just a general dull “ache” across an area of the back including the spine) and tenderness. Tenderness refers to pain that is caused by pressing on the area.

In osteomyelitis, a sharp pain will be felt when the affected bone is touched. Patients may also experience warmth and swelling of the area along with reddening (all the classic signs of an infection). Patients may also experience systemic symptoms – ie symptoms that affect the entire body – with osteomyelitis these are usually fever chills.

Who Gets Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis can occur in anyone. However, there are a number of groups that are at a high risk of developing the infection. Patients with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, IV drug use or penetrating soft tissue injuries are all at an increased risk.

How is Osteomyelitis Treated?

Osteomyelitis is a serious infection that has often spread from soft tissue to the bone. As the bone is poorly supplied by blood it is not straightforward to treat. Typically patients with an infection are given antibiotics but in osteomyelitis, this is not sufficient.

Usually patient are taken immediately or as soon as possible for a procedure called surgical debridement. This surgery aims to remove the infected bone from the patient. It is a serious operation and the patient is required to be on antibiotics for anywhere between four and six weeks after the operation.

What Should You do if You Suspect Osteomyelitis?

Most causes of back pain are not serious. Usually, patients tweak a muscle or are over stressed. However, osteomyelitis is a serious infection with a high mortality rate and doctors will want to screen patients with back pain for signs of osteomyelitis. If you experience localized pain in your back in conjunction with systemic symptoms like a fever then contact your doctor right away.