Septic Arthritis

Septic Arthritis

Body Part


The shoulder is a ball and socket joint in the upper extremity. The glenoid (socket) and the humeral head (ball) form the gleno-humeral joint. This joint is enclosed in a capsule.


Septic arthritis refers to an infection of a joint. Though most common in the knee, the shoulder can also be affected. It usually occurs after an infection elsewhere in the body, e.g. sore throat. Germs travel through the bloodstream and settle in the shoulder joint. In time, pus begins to form.


This leads to severe pain, inability to move the shoulder, fever and a general feeling of illness. In the early stages X-rays will be normal. Bloods may show an elevated white cell count and inflammatory markers, and an aspirate (needle into the joint) will yield pus.


Septic arthritis is an emergency because it can endanger the individual’s life and destroy the joint if not treated promptly. Once the diagnosis is made then the treatment is washout of the joint in theatre, which can be done open, or using keyhole surgery. Further washouts may be required to ensure the joint is completely clear of germs. You will also be started on intravenous antibiotics during your stay in hospital. The presence of severe shoulder pain after a previous infection, especially if you have a fever, should prompt you to seek an urgent orthopaedic opinion.