From 1987 to 1993, 88 patients (average age 48 years, range 3 months to 83 years) with septic arthritis were treated at the orthopaedic clinic König Ludwig Haus of the University of Würzburg by arthroscopic means consisting of joint debridement and application of suction drains, combined with appropriate antibiotics and early functional treatment. The series consisted of 78 knees, 8 shoulders and 3 ankles. At the first visit to our clinic, patients typically presented with fever, leucocytosis, elevated sedimentation rate and localized findings in almost every joint involved (generalized tenderness, swelling, effusion, painful and limited range of motion). All the patients were taken to the operating room on an emergency basis. Broad-spectrum antibiotics were given before the initial culture was evaluated, and its sensitivity was determined. Recovery from arthritis by elimination of joint effusion and disappearance of the inflammatory syndrome occurred in all the joints except for 3 (1 knee joint and 2 shoulders). The number of arthroscopic procedures needed to become free from infection depended on the one hand on the time between onset of symptoms and arthroscopic surgery and on the other on the kind of microorganism discovered. At the average follow-up evaluation after 2.5 years (range 6 months to 5 years), the functional results were excellent or good in 61% of the patients, satisfactory in 20% and poor in 19% from our series. This functional outcome depends on the degenerative changes of the joint before infection, patient's age, and the time interval between onset of symptoms and surgical intervention; indirectly, the time lapse between the onset of infection and surgical intervention also had an influence on the intraoperative macroscopic appearance.