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Vertebral osteomyelitis is a bone infection in the spine. The infection is most often found in the vertebrae, but it can also spread into the epidural and disc spaces. Osteomyelitis is rare, most commonly found in children and the elderly. Osteomyelitis may affect any area of the spinal column including the neck, mid-back, lower back, and the sacrum. The pain may also spread to other areas of the body depending on the affected level of the spine.


Symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis depend on the location of the infection and its severity.

The symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis include:

  • Fever
  • Persistent and severe back pain
  • Pain that is worsened by movement or at night
  • Tingling, numbness, or burning sensation
  • Difficulty walking
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss or vomiting
  • Paralysis


The causes of osteomyelitis varies based on the type. 

There are two types of vertebral osteomyelitis: acute and chronic. 

  • Acute osteomyelitis is caused by bacteria. The bacteria may enter the bloodstream through an open wound or a contaminated intravenous (IV) needle. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common bacteria to cause acute osteomyelitis.
  • Chronic osteomyelitis develops gradually, usually from a condition that affects immunity. Tuberculosis and AIDS have both been known to cause chronic osteomyelitis. 

Other causes of osteomyelitis include:

  • Injuries that damage the deep tissues of the back
  • Severe bone fractures
  • Bone surgeries
  • A weakened immune system from cancer treatment
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