Osteomyelitis of the ribs in children: a rare and potentially challenging diagnosis

Allison M. Crone, Matthew Wanner, Matthew L. Cooper, Thomas G. Fox, S. Gregory Jennings, Boaz Karmazyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Background: Rib osteomyelitis is rare in children and can mimic other pathologies. Imaging has a major role in the diagnosing rib osteomyelitis. Objective: To evaluate clinical presentation and imaging findings in children with rib osteomyelitis. Materials and methods: We performed a retrospective (2009–2018) study on children with rib osteomyelitis verified by either positive culture or pathology. We excluded children with multifocal osteomyelitis or empyema necessitans. We reviewed medical charts for clinical, laboratory and pathology data, and treatment. All imaging modalities for rib abnormalities were evaluated for presence and location of osteomyelitis and abscess. We calculated descriptive statistics to compare patient demographics, clinical presentation and imaging findings. Results: The study group included 10 children (6 boys, 4 girls), with an average age of 7.3 years (range, 3 months to 15.9 years). The most common clinical presentations were fever (n=8) and pain (n=5). Eight children had elevated inflammatory indices (leukocytosis, erythrocyte sedimentation rate [ESR], C-reactive protein [CRP]). Localized chest wall swelling was found initially in six children and later in two more children. Rib osteomyelitis was suspected on presentation in only two children. All children had chest radiographs. Rib lytic changes were found on only one chest radiograph, in two of the four ultrasound studies, and in four of eight CTs. Bone marrow signal abnormalities were seen in all eight MRIs. In nine children the osteomyelitis involved the costochondral junction. Six children had an associated abscess. Staphylococcus aureus was cultured in eight children. Osteomyelitis was diagnosed based on pathology in one child with negative cultures. Conclusion: While rib osteomyelitis is rare, imaging findings of lytic changes at the costochondral junction combined with a history of fever, elevated inflammatory markers or localized soft-tissue swelling in the chest should raise suspicion for this disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPediatric Radiology
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019


  • Children
  • Computed tomography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Rib

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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