Bone infection (Osteomyelitis) is a bone infection which can occur in practically any bone in the body. Bacteria usually cause the infection but fungi can occasionally have the same effect. Osteomyelitis is rare in the U.S. and it affects children more than adults.
The disease takes several forms according the way the infection traveled to the bone and the type of bone infected. Infections can reach the bone via open fractures or surgery on fractures from body tissues next to the bone from artificial joints and from ulcers in the foot. People who inject street drugs and patients who receive kidney dialysis are particularly vulnerable to osteomyelitis.
Signs and Symptoms of Bone Infection
The symptoms of osteomyelitis include the following.
- Intense pain and a sensation of heat at the site of the affected bone
- Small areas of tenderness and swelling
- Persistent back pain that is not relieved by rest heat or pain killers
- Abscesses containing pus in tissue surrounding the painful bone
- Fever in some cases
What Causes Bone Infection?
Several different types of bacteria or fungi can infect bones often after a fracture or other injury or as the result of a joint replacement. The infection can also spread beyond the bone creating abscesses in muscles and other tissues outside the bone.
What to Expect when treated
After you describe your symptoms your health care provider will feel your skin above the affected bone to check for tenderness. He or she will take blood samples to check for osteomyelitis and the type of bacterium or fungus responsible. Your provider may also want to sample the bone itself. This will involve inserting a needle through the skin and into the bone and snipping off a small piece of the bone for testing. Your provider may also want you to have a bone scan which uses a mildly radioactive compound to highlight infected areas in the bones. You may also need a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging two types of imaging tests that produce more detailed information than conventional X rays.
Bone Infection Treatment Options
The medicine you take depends on the type of bacteria or fungi that caused your infection. Lots of bed rest and a cast or splint to immobilize the bone or joint are helpful. Surgery is necessary only if the infection is found too late to stop it from spreading.
Bone Infection Drug Therapies
- Antibiotics—for bacterial infections; you will need to take the antibiotic for several weeks until the infection is gone
- Antimicrobial drugs (cefoxitin cefotetan)—for chronic osteomyelitis osteomyelitis caused by diabetes foot ulcers or by infections next to the bone
- Oxacillin and nafcillin—effective for Staphylococcus aureus which is the most common cause of infection; often given intravenously especially for children
Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Bone Infection
Alternative therapies can be used along with medical treatment to strengthen your immune system and help you recover.
Nutrition for Bone Infection
For overall immune support and help with healing use the following.
- Vitamin C (1 000 mg three or four times a day)
- Zinc (30 to 50 mg per day then reduce to 25 mg per day)
- Vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day)
- Vitamin A (10 000 to 15 000 IU per day). Do not use if you are or may become pregnant.
- Acidophilus (1 to 3 capsules per day or 1 to 5 million organisms per day)—to prevent antibiotic-induced diarrhea and yeast infections
Herbs for Bone Infection
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy it is important to work with your provider on getting your problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules powders teas) glycerites (glycerine extracts) or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated teas should be made with one teaspoon herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink two to four cups per day.
Use one or more herbs from each category. Make a tincture using equal parts. Take 15 to 60 drops three to four times a day.
- For immune support: coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
- To fight infection: goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) barberry (Berberis vulgaris) garlic (Allium sativum)
- To relieve pain: valerian (Valeriana officianalis) St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- For improved circulation: ginkgo biloba 120 mg twice a day
Herbs called alternatives are traditionally known as blood cleansers. Use an infusion of red clover (Trifolium pratense) burdock root (Arctium lappa) yellow dock (Rumex crispus) yarrow (Achillea millefolium) cleavers (Galium aparine) and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Drink two to three cups a day. Do not use licorice if you have hypertension.
To help with the healing of abscesses make a paste from the powders of goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis) and slippery elm (Ulmus fulva). Apply as needed.
Homeopathy Remedies for Bone Infection
Some of the most common remedies used for osteomyelitis are listed below. Usually the dose is 12X to 30C every one to four hours until your symptoms get better.
- Arnica for use after trauma or injury especially with bruising or a bruised beat up feeling
- Ledum for puncture wounds that lead to abscesses especially if they feel better with cold applications
- Silica for enlarged glands or abscesses especially in depleted patients
Acupuncture for Bone Infection
May help stimulate immune response reducing inflammation pain swelling and fever
Massage should be avoided because it could spread the infection.
Supporting Research on Bone Infection
Berkow R ed. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 16th ed. Rahway NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 1992.
Dambro MR. Griffith’s Five-Minute Clinical Consult. New York NY: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 1998.
Larson DE ed. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. 2nd ed. New York NY: William Morrow and Company; 1996.
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