The goals with treatment are to eliminate the infection, reduce inflammation and associated fluid pressure on the joint, minimize joint damage, and maintain and/or recover joint mobility. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent the destruction of joints, which can occur within days, if not hours.
The primary treatment is the appropriate antimicrobial therapy, such as intravenous antibiotics. The exact medication prescribed will depend on which drugs the microorganism is susceptible to and how effective the antimicrobials are at getting into the joint space where the infection is (although your doctor may not wait for the laboratory results before starting treatment to reduce the chances of joint destruction). In most cases, this drug will also be effective in treating the source of the infection when it has originated in the blood or another body organ or tissue. With some organisms, such as a mycobacterium, multiple drugs may need to be taken for extended periods of time. Viral infections will usually resolve on their own.
Patients may also be treated for inflammation and pain with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Fluid is usually aspirated from the affected joint(s) to relieve pressure and to obtain material to culture the specific microorganism. Aspiration may need to be done several times to relieve pressure. In some cases, surgery may be needed to drain the infected joint fluid.