Peripheral Bacterial Septic Arthritis: Review of Diagnosis and Management

J Clin Rheumatol. 2017 Dec;23(8):435-442. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000000588.


Septic arthritis refers to an infection in a joint due to a bacterial, mycobacterial, or fungal cause. Joint infections are a serious cause of morbidity and mortality and constitute a true musculoskeletal emergency. The estimated incidence of septic arthritis in the general population is between 2 and 6 cases per 100,000 people per year. The most common presentation is an acute monoarthritis. Identification of organisms in the synovial fluid is the criterion standard for diagnosis. Synovial fluid aspiration should be performed prior to initiating antibiotics. While no diagnostic cutoff exists for synovial fluid white blood cell count, increasing leukocytosis is associated with a higher likelihood of an infectious cause of arthritis, and patients commonly present with values greater than 50,000/μL. The cornerstones of treating septic bacterial arthritis are adequate drainage and antimicrobials. Joint drainage is always recommended in septic arthritis; however, no clear guidelines or strong evidence exist to guide the preferred method of drainage. Options for joint drainage include daily needle aspiration, arthroscopy, or open surgical drainage via arthrotomy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Infectious* / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Infectious* / microbiology
  • Arthritis, Infectious* / therapy
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans