• David Simmons, PT, DPT

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common bacterial skin infection that if goes untreated, can lead to serious health issues. A bacterial skin infection is when bacteria enters the body (usually through hair follicles or tears/cuts in the skin). A common cause for these infections such as cellulitis is following surgery (due to an open wound). Having some general knowledge on what to look for when it comes to cellulitis may help prevent getting it, or allow you to get early intervention so that it does not become serious.

Risk factors for bacterial infections

Below are some risk factors that increase the possibility of getting bacterial infections such as cellulitis. If you have some of the risk factors it does not mean that you will get a skin infection but it does put you at a higher risk. So if that is the case you should make sure to take extra precautions when it comes to good wound management (see below) and performing weekly skin checks.

  • ​Diabetes/poor blood flow (body has more difficulty fighting infections)

  • Recent history of hospitalization/living in nursing home

  • Elderly/older population

  • People who are undergoing chemotherapy

  • People who have a history of immune disorders or other immunodeficiency viruses

  • Skin that is inflamed or damaged (chronic skin conditions such as athletes foot)

  • Any break in the skin

  • Being overweight Injection drug use

  • Chicken pox/shingles


Signs/symptoms of cellulitis

Every case will present a little differently but in general an area of the skin that is infected with cellulitis will appear: red, swollen, painful, warm and tender to the touch. There also may be pitting edema present (if you press on the area and it leaves a dimple like impression for a couple of seconds). It most commonly occurs on the feet and legs but can occur anywhere on the body. Some other symptoms that may be present as well include: bruising, blisters, fever, headaches, chills, weakness. If there are any symptoms above present for greater than 24 hours it is very important to reach out to a medical professional to get further evaluation.


Emergent care may be necessary if any of the below symptoms are present:

  • ​Very large area or red inflamed skin

  • Fever

  • If the affected area is causing numbness/tingling

  • Skin appears black

Signs and symptoms of cellulitis can often appear like other skin infections so it is always important to reach out to your Doctor and or surgeon. Especially these days when pictures can be easily sent and assessed it is better to be safe than sorry.


Treatment of cellulitis

The current treatment for cellulitis is IV antibiotics. So the sooner it can be assessed by a medical professional and diagnosed the quicker they can get medications on board. Other things that may help in the treatment of cellulitis include:

  • Cool dressings on infection site

  • Keeping area dry and clean

  • Ice and elevating the infected area

  • Topical antibiotics

  • Pain medicine as needed

How to prevent cellulitis

While there is no vaccine or true prevention of cellulitis there are measures that you can take to significantly decrease the risk of the infection. The first and most important is to wash your hands often with soap and or alcohol based hand rub, especially before dealing with any open cuts on the body. Clean all minor cuts and injuries that break the skin with soap and water. Clean and cover all open wounds with clean, and dry bandages until they are fully healed. If you have an open wound or active infection, avoid submerging the area in any bodies of water (pool, river, hot tub, etc.)

If you recently had surgery make sure to follow good wound care practice in order to limit the risk of infection (more info on good wound care can be found here).

If you have any questions or concerns it is always best to contact your physician or surgeon immediately so they can decide the next steps to take.

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