One of the approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is for the treatment of chronic refractory osteomyelitis. This is a chronic condition of infection involving the cortex and medullary portions of the bone. For a patient to be considered a candidate for HBOT, he or she must have failed a course of standard therapy that includes debridement and a course of antibiotics. There is no exact point where one can differentiate between acute and chronic osteomyelitis, however, the accepted guidelines by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for treatment is generally 3 months.
One of the more common places that we encounter osteomyelitis is in diabetic patients with foot ulcers that penetrate to the bone or with a history of prior extremity trauma. The use of HBOT for osteomyelitis involving the long bones has decreased with the advent of improved surgical techniques for fracture repair and the use of plastic surgical flaps. Healing can be compromised by the interruption of blood supply to the bone either by infection, trauma, or repetitive injury. Physical examination may demonstrate exposed bone, odor, drainage, and tenderness. Although X-rays may be helpful, magnetic resonance imaging has emerged as the diagnostic tool of choice. Bone biopsy may provide pathologic diagnosis and also provide deep wound culture.
The mechanism of action of HBOT is similar to what has been discussed here before: enhancement of angiogenesis, increased leukocyte killing and improved bone healing through increased fibroblastic activity, and deposition of collagen with subsequent osteoblastic bone deposition.
The typical course of therapy for the treatment of chronic refractory osteomyelitis is 2.0-2.5 ATA, 30 dives for 90 minutes each, but the number of treatments may increase based on the severity of the disease.