Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis is a serious type of joint infection. It should be treated as soon as possible. You can make a full recovery with treatment but if left untreated it can be more serious.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have severe joint pain, usually in just 1 joint, that started suddenly
  • you have swelling around a joint
  • the skin around a joint has changed colour
  • you feel generally unwell and have a high temperature or feel hot and shivery

Symptoms of septic arthritis usually develop quickly over a few days and need to be checked straight away.

If you cannot get an urgent GP appointment, call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Treatment for septic arthritis

If doctors think you have symptoms of septic arthritis:

The average stay in hospital if you have septic arthritis is about 2 weeks. Most people start feeling better quickly once they are given antibiotics.


When you leave hospital you may be given antibiotic tablets to take for several weeks. It is important to keep taking the tablets for as long as you are told to, even if you feel better. Stopping treatment too soon could lead to the infection coming back.

Follow-up treatment

You may be referred to a physiotherapist to help you get the joint moving again. This should help prevent any long-term stiffness in the joint.

If the infection was in an artificial joint, such as in a knee or hip replacement, the joint may need to be removed. It may be possible to replace it with a new artificial joint once the infection has been treated.

Causes of septic arthritis

You can get septic arthritis if germs get into a joint. This can happen:

Who is at risk of septic arthritis

Anyone can get septic arthritis but some people are more at risk. This includes people:

Page last reviewed: 23 March 2023
Next review due: 23 March 2026