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Septic Arthritis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

Septic arthritis is a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in one or more of your joints. The germ can travel to the joint from another part of your body. A puncture wound near the joint can bring the germ directly into the joint. Septic arthritis usually affects large joints, such as in the knee, hip, shoulder, ankle, and elbow. Septic arthritis needs immediate medical care to prevent permanent joint damage.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your heartbeat or breathing is fast, or you have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever and are confused.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You are urinating little or not at all.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You have sudden, severe joint pain.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your symptoms return.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.


  • Rest your painful joint as directed. You may need to keep the joint still when it is painful to prevent more damage.
  • Elevate the joint to reduce swelling and pain. Keep the joint above the level of your heart as often as possible.
  • Apply ice to the joint to reduce swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use a cold compress, or put crushed ice in a bag. Cover it with a towel and apply it to your joint for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise may help keep your joints flexible and reduce pain. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise to get each day and which exercises are best for you.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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