Causes of Joint Pain: Septic Arthritis - SkyGen

Causes of Joint Pain: Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis is an unpleasant title for an unpleasant condition. Septic, or infectious arthritis is a form of arthritis that is caused by an infectious agent. This agent is usually bacterial, but fungal and viral infections can also cause arthritis. Because of all the different sorts of pathogenic agents that can factor into this kind of arthritis, it can be very difficult to connect the diagnostic dots and determine what kind of infection is causing the problem.

In order to create a septic arthritis condition, bacteria or whatever pathogenic agent is at work on you, has to find it’s way into the synovial membrane of a joint. This is the place where most forms of arthritis start their campaign – the lubrication hubs of the joints.

Infections can get into the joints in a variety of ways. They can travel through the bloodstream from any other point in the body such as an infected wound or sore (puncture wounds are common entry points). They can also jump over from some infected tissue nearby the joint such as muscles, skin, or even the bone marrow itself. When any kind of sepsis or infection is present, effective treatment is critical in order to keep the condition from worsening. Many forms of sepsis can cause severe internal damage if they are allowed to go undiagnosed and untreated for long enough – moving through the body to affect critical organs such as the heart or lungs. But, you can’t have an accurately targeted treatment if you don’t have an accurate diagnosis.

And an accurate diagnosis (made by a licensed physician) is exactly what you should seek out if you’re reading this and find that one or more of the symptoms described applies to the problems you are experiencing:

1. Symptoms of Septic Arthritis:

There are a few easily recognisable symptoms of septic arthritis that can help to distinguish between septic and other forms of arthritis. One is the speed with which the condition progresses. Osteoarthritis, for instance, develops gradually over years; starting off as occasional discomfort during particular kinds of movement and deteriorating very slowly over the course of years and even decades before becoming debilitating. Septic arthritis happens fast. An infected joint can go from healthy and limber to locked up and swollen in a week or two.

Another distinctive characteristic of septic arthritis is the quality of the pain, which can be quite distinctive. Rather than being worse within a particular range of motion, synovial infection is likely to be painful no matter how the joint moves, or how much, and the person suffering from it is going to move heaven and earth to keep the affected joints very, very still.

2. Types of Infection that Cause Septic Arthritis:

Bacterial infections are by far and away the most common cause of septic arthritis. And the most common bacterial contributor, actually the most common contributor of any type, is the dreaded Staph infection – staphylococcus aureus. This is a very tenacious and voracious tissue eating bacteria. It is so tenacious, in fact, that in some developed countries such as the U.S.A. the bacteria have developed a resistance to the most common antibiotic medications. This mutant strain is called MRSA or Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. The bacteria mutated as a result of many years of exposure to antibiotics in these countries. This nasty little bug likes to hang out in places where there is plenty of sweat, heat, and people touching the same stuff. Gyms, jails, and first world hospitals are the big three. The condition is particularly common in athletes and joint replacement patients (in the first world).

Other somewhat common bacterial infections that can develop into arthritis include Streptococci, Haemophilius Influenzae, Neisseria Gonorrhoea, and Escherichia “E” Coli. Arthritis of the spinal cord can be caused by Salmonella or Tuberculosis bacteria. On occasion the exceedingly rare Brucellosis bacteria (which usually infect farm animals) will choose to make a human host out of a farmer – also potentially leading to the development of septic arthritis in the spine.

3. Treatment of Septic Arthritis:

Treatment, while varying depending on the infectious disease behind the problem, usually consists of serious antibiotic treatment (intravenous) and some equally serious cleansing and drying out of the affected area. This cleaning could include draining the infected tissue by aspiration (sticking a needle in and pulling the bad stuff out) and deep cleansing with special antiseptic compounds that can kill some of the very tough bacteria behind the condition.

Some forms of septic arthritis, such as those caused by Gonorrhoea, will become chronic and require steroid injections for symptomatic control, with symptoms eventually reappearing and the area needing to be drained by aspiration again. Septic arthritis is often less threatening and easier to treat effectively than forms like Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is complex and systemic, or osteoarthritis which is rather degenerative in nature.

These other forms of arthritis are often assumed to be “friends for life”, and often enough they are, unless regenerative and stem cell therapies are employed to fix the damage the body can’t fix on its own. Don’t panic though; Septic Arthritis doesn’t have to be that bad. For the time being, most bacteria can be eliminated with lots of antibiotics and a sterile environment. And when the bacteria are gone, the Septic Arthritis will soon follow.

*Please read: Although the information provided on this page may describe a particular patient experience and/or outcome, readers must understand that each patient presents with a unique medical history and may be recommended a different treatment/surgery by their surgeon to that described above. Individual results may vary between surgery centre/hospital, surgeon, surgery type and patient. Although SkyGen agrees to share all updates from patients at their request, SkyGen does not endorse any physical activities attempted by patients following surgery which do not follow the explicit instructions provided by their surgeon. SkyGen encourages all patients to discuss the risks of such activities with medical professionals before attempting these themselves.

Written by William Harrison

William Harrison is a professional medical writer and investigatory health journalist. Left partially paralysed in a fall that broke his back, he received two serious spinal operations and learned to walk again in Thailand, the land he now calls home. A food loving, tea guzzling, experience junkie, he has written extensively on health, medicine, fitness and Thai tourism. The partial product of his experiences and passions, he now avidly follows the development of stem cell therapies internationally as SkyGen's resident health journalist.