Septic arthritis (being treated with antibiotics)

Advice for parents / carers taking their child home after seeing a hospital-based healthcare professional.


Septic arthritis is a bacterial infection in a joint (the connection made between bones in the body). It can occur at any age and in any joint.


  • Pain or discomfort on touching and / or moving the joint
  •  Limping or inability to bear weight on the affected limb
  • Swelling and / or redness of the affected area may occur
  • Fever may be present



 Septic arthritis often happens after a recent injury or infection, such as a cough or cold. Bacteria travel through the bloodstream and enter the joint area. Pus (fluid from the inflamed area) can form and cause swelling and pain.



 We can treat septic arthritis and relieve the pain with an operation to drain the infected fluid from the joint. For the operation, your child will be given a general anaesthetic (medicine that puts you to sleep during the procedure). After the operation, they will need to rest affected joint to help it to heal. We may use a plaster cast or skin traction, depending on which joint has been affected. If it is the hip joint, we may use a hip spica (a type of plaster cast).

We will give your child antibiotic therapy (medicine that fights infection) directly into the bloodstream (intravenous) via a cannula (a small plastic tube). We will take blood tests and help your child’s doctor prescribe the right antibiotics to treat the infection.

The team caring for your child will decide how long they need to have this treatment and when to change from intravenous to oral antibiotics (tablets or liquid). This will depend on how quickly your child responds to the treatment and whether they have other health conditions. Antibiotics are usually given for a total of two to three weeks.

You can give your child regular pain relief (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) until their discomfort has improved.


What else can you do to help?

It is very important to make sure your child takes every dose of their oral that they recover from the infection and prevent it coming back. You can give regular pain relief (paracetamol or ibuprofen) until the pain has improved. Please note:  ibuprofen should not be used if your child has chicken pox.


 Septic arthritis usually clears up completely when a child has treatment for it, and children do not usually experience long-term complications. The orthopaedic team will review your child to monitor their progress.

If you are concerned that your child’s condition is getting worse, you should contact the hospital urgently – you’ll find the contact details on the information you were provided with when your child was discharged.

Symptoms to look out for: 

  • Fever
  • Fast heartbeat 
  • Fast breathing 
  • Changes in behaviour, such as confusion or disorientation 
  • Increase in pain, swelling, redness, stiffness, and warmth in affected joint




Preventing septic arthritis reoccuring

 Make sure your child takes their entire course of antibiotics as directed by their health care professional. Your child will also have follow-up appointments after they leave hospital. It is important to keep these appointments, even if your child seems well, to make sure that there has not been any damage to the joint.


For further information on helping to keep your child healthy, click here.


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