Diagnosis and management of sternoclavicular joint infections: A literature review

Sadia Tasnim, Ali Shirafkan, Ikenna Okereke

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The sternoclavicular joint (SCJ) is anatomically and clinically significant considering its proximity to important neuro-vascular structures like the subclavian vessels and the phrenic nerve. Infections of this joint masquerade multiple disorders, delay diagnosis and spread to the bone and deep tissues. There is no standardized workup and treatment protocol for sternoclavicular joint infections (SCJI) as defined in literature. Here, we review the existing literature to understand the current knowledge of the diagnosis and treatment of SCJI. We searched English publications in PubMed and included clinical trials, case reports, case series, retrospective cohort studies, literature and systematic reviews after excluding non-infectious etiology of SCJ pathologies. There are many risk factors for SCJI, such as immunocompromised status, intravenous drug use, trauma and arthropathies. But a large percentage of patients with disease have none of these risk factors. SCJIs can present with fever, joint swelling, immobility, and rarely with vocal cord palsy or dysphagia. While Staphylococcus aureus causes over 50% of SCJI cases, other pathogens such as Pseudomonas and Mycobacterium are frequently seen. When diagnosed early, the infection can be medically managed with antibiotics or joint aspirations. Most cases of SCJI, however, are diagnosed after extensive spread to soft tissue and bones requiring en-bloc resection with or without a muscle flap. Complications of undertreatment can range from simple abscess formation to mediastinitis, even sepsis. SCJIs are rare but serious infections prompting early detection and interventions. Most cases of SCJI treated adequately show complete resolution in months while retaining maximum functionality. Key features of proper healing include aggressive physiotherapy to prevent adhesive shoulder capsulitis and decreased range of motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4418-4426
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Thoracic Disease
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Antibiotics
  • Pathogens
  • Sternoclavicular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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