Musculoskeletal Infections

What causes musculoskeletal infections?

Musculoskeletal infections include infections that develop in the bones (osteomyelitis), joints (septic arthritis), or muscles (myositis) of a child. These infections are commonly caused by bacteria named Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria cause “Staph” infections. When these bacteria gain access to the bloodstream, they are able to seed in different areas of the body, including the bones, muscles, or joints.

Why are Children Especially Affected by Musculoskeletal Infections?

Children tend to have a less developed immune system, especially at a young age. Children also tend to injure themselves as they are learning their way around the world. This combination leads to children having a higher risk of musculoskeletal infection. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal infection because it can negatively affect the growth and development of a child’s bones or joints. Without proper treatment, physical dysfunction may result.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Infection?

Parents will notice that their child complains of pain. The child may have a hard time moving the affected area. The child may limp or not walk at all because they are in pain. These children will usually have a fever and may have swelling. Infants may present with signs of infection. The signs include irritability, drowsiness, vomiting, and refusing to eat.

How is a Musculoskeletal Infection Diagnosed?

The history of the child’s symptoms is important to diagnosing a musculoskeletal infection. It is helpful when parents can recall recent episodes when a child were injured, especially if the pain from the injury has not improved. The doctor will then examine the painful area and determine what movements cause the child pain.

The doctor may ask to run to some blood tests or tissue cultures. These tests identify if bacteria is present. They may also ask to perform imaging tests, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or ultrasound to visualize the painful area.

How are musculoskeletal infections treated?

The primary treatment for musculoskeletal infections is antibiotics. Children will need to stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks to receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Then, children are able to transition to oral antibiotics. The total amount of time spent on antibiotics is usually between 4-6 weeks.

Surgical removal of pus may be necessary in moderate to severe infections. Swelling will decrease after pus removal and the antibiotics will be able to work effectively. Most children will completely recover from the infection and have no issues in the future. It is important to bring your concerns to child’s doctor as soon as possible. Children with infections that are caught early tend to do better than those with long-lasting infections.