BackgroundSeptic arthritis of the elbow joint is a rare condition. Limited data is available on infections of the elbow joint following trauma or prior surgery on this joint. The aim of this study was to describe the etiology, comorbidities, bacterial spectrum and therapy of secondary purulent elbow infections.MethodsPatients treated in our hospital were selected through retrospective chart review between 2006 and 2015. We included all patients with an empyema of the elbow after a trauma or surgical intervention on this joint. 30 patients between 26 and 82 years (mean: 52.47) were included.ResultsSeven patients (23.3%) were female, 23 (76.7%) male. 22 patients (73.3%) had a history of trauma, eight (26.7%) had prior elective surgeries on their elbow. Between one and 25 surgeries (mean: 5.77) were necessary for treatment. In nine patients, debridement and synovectomy were sufficient, eight patients (26.7%) received resection of the elbow joint. One patient was treated with a chronic fistula. In 18 patients (60%), cultures of aspiration/intraoperative swabs were positive for Staphylococcus aureus, four of these were methicillin-resistant. Four patients (13.3%) had positive cultures for Staphylococcus epidermidis, in five patients (16.7%) no bacteria could be cultured.ConclusionsSecondary infections of the elbow joint are a rare disease with potentially severe courses, requiring aggressive surgical treatment and possibly severely impacting elbow function. Staphylococcus aureus was the most common bacteria in secondary infections and should be addressed by empiric antibiotic treatment when no suspicion for other participating organisms is present.