Psoas abscess

Last updated: September 11, 2023

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Summarytoggle arrow icon

Psoas abscess (also called iliopsoas abscess) is a rare condition characterized by a localized collection of pus in the iliopsoas muscle compartment. It is categorized into primary psoas abscess (caused by hematogenous or lymphatic spread of a pathogen) and secondary psoas abscess (resulting from contiguous spread from an adjacent infectious focus). The most common causes of secondary psoas abscess are infections of gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal origin. Infections are often monomicrobial, with S. aureus most frequently isolated, followed by E. coli. Polymicrobial abscesses are most commonly of gastrointestinal origin. Computed tomography is the diagnostic modality of choice. Empiric antibiotic therapy should be administered as soon as blood cultures and, if possible, abscess cultures are obtained. A small abscess (< 3.5 cm) in a nonseptic patient can be managed with antibiotic therapy alone. Larger or multiloculated abscesses should be drained under image guidance or with surgery. In a psoas abscess of any kind, the underlying cause should be evaluated and treated.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

Causative pathogens of psoas abscess
Pathogen Properties
S. aureus
  • Most common causative pathogen [2]
  • Typically associated with a skeletal primary focus
  • Incidence of MRSA is not well established.
E. coli
  • Second most common causative pathogen [2]
  • Typically associated with gastrointestinal or urinary tract primary focus

Bacteroides spp., S. viridans

  • Frequently isolated, especially from a gastrointestinal focus [2][4]
M. tuberculosis

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Imaging is required to confirm the clinical diagnosis of psoas abscess. Laboratory studies provide supportive evidence of an acute infectious process and may be used to monitor response to therapy. Tests to evaluate for a suspected primary focus should be guided by the pretest probability of the underlying etiology, as determined by a thorough history and physical examination. If no obvious primary focus of infection can be identified, the psoas abscess is presumed to be a primary psoas abscess. [7]

Laboratory studies [2][6][8]

Obtain blood cultures (and pus/aspirate cultures, if possible) before initiating empiric antibiotic therapy.


CT abdomen and pelvis with IV contrast (axial section) [2][6][9]

MRI of the pelvis and abdomen with IV contrast [9]

Abdominal ultrasound [10]

  • Indications
    • An alternative to MRI in patients with contraindications for CT scan
    • May be used as a first-line imaging modality to evaluation for intraabdominal infection
  • Supportive findings

Imaging to evaluate for a suspected primary focus

A primary focus within the abdomen or spine may be discovered incidentally during the workup for psoas abscess.

If no primary focus of infection can be identified, primary psoas abscess is most likely. [7]

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

See also differential diagnosis of low back pain.

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

General principles [2][6][13]

Empiric antibiotic therapy for psoas abscess [2][6][14]

Abscess drainage

Image-guided percutaneous drainage (PCD)

  • Indications
    • Size of the abscess > 3.5 cm [2][12][13]
    • Abscess anatomically amenable to PCD
  • Procedure
    • Under image guidance, drain the abscess and place the drainage catheter in the abscess cavity to allow further drainage.
    • CT-guided drainage is preferred. [12]
    • Ultrasound-guided drainage may be attempted if experienced radiologists are available. [10]

Surgical drainage

Send abscess fluid for culture and tailor antibiotic therapy to the sensitivity reports.

Acute management checklisttoggle arrow icon

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Shields D, Robinson P, Crowley TP. Iliopsoas abscess – A review and update on the literature. Int J Surg. 2012; 10 (9): p.466-469.doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2012.08.016 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  2. Ricci MA, Rose FB, Meyer KK. Pyogenic psoas abscess: Worldwide variations in etiology. World J Surg. 1986; 10 (5): p.834-842.doi: 10.1007/bf01655254 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  3. López VN, Ramos JM, Meseguer V, et al. Microbiology and Outcome of Iliopsoas Abscess in 124 Patients. Medicine. 2009; 88 (2): p.120-130.doi: 10.1097/md.0b013e31819d2748 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  4. Huang J-J, Ruaan M-K, Lan R-R, Wang M-C. Acute Pyogenic Iliopsoas Abscess in Taiwan: Clinical Features, Diagnosis, Treatments and Outcome. J Infect. 2000; 40 (3): p.248-255.doi: 10.1053/jinf.2000.0643 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  5. Tomich EB, Della-Giustina D. Bilateral psoas abscess in the emergency department. The western journal of emergency medicine. 2009; 10 (4): p.288-91.
  6. Yoo JH, Kim EH, Song HS, Cha JG. A case of primary psoas abscess presenting as buttock abscess. Journal of Orthopaedics and Traumatology. 2009; 10 (4): p.207-210.doi: 10.1007/s10195-009-0074-2 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  7. Nakamura T, Morimoto T, Katsube K, Yamamori Y, Mashino J, Kikuchi K. Clinical characteristics of pyogenic spondylitis and psoas abscess at a tertiary care hospital: a retrospective cohort study. J Orthop Surg. 2018; 13 (1).doi: 10.1186/s13018-018-1005-9 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  8. Muttarak M, Peh WCG. CT of Unusual Iliopsoas Compartment Lesions. RadioGraphics. 2000; 20 (suppl_1): p.S53-S66.doi: 10.1148/radiographics.20.suppl_1.g00oc07s53 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  9. Chern C-H, Hu S-C, Kao W-F, Tsai J, Yen D, Lee C-H. Psoas abscess: Making an early diagnosis in the ED. Am J Emerg Med. 1997; 15 (1): p.83-88.doi: 10.1016/s0735-6757(97)90057-7 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  10. Signore A, Sconfienza LM, Borens O, et al. Consensus document for the diagnosis of prosthetic joint infections: a joint paper by the EANM, EBJIS, and ESR (with ESCMID endorsement). Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 2019; 46 (4): p.971-988.doi: 10.1007/s00259-019-4263-9 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  11. Tabrizian P. Management and Treatment of Iliopsoas Abscess. Arch Surg. 2009; 144 (10): p.946.doi: 10.1001/archsurg.2009.144 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  12. Yacoub WN, Sohn HJ, Chan S, et al. Psoas abscess rarely requires surgical intervention. The American Journal of Surgery. 2008; 196 (2): p.223-227.doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2007.07.032 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  13. Gilbert DN, Chambers HF, Eliopoulos GM, et al. The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy 2019. Antimicrobial Therapy, Incorporated, 2019 ; 2019
  14. Deng Y, Zhang Y, Song L, et al. Primary iliopsoas abscess combined with rapid development of septic shock. Medicine. 2018; 97 (51): p.e13628.doi: 10.1097/md.0000000000013628 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  15. $Contributor Disclosures - Psoas abscess. All of the relevant financial relationships listed for the following individuals have been mitigated: Jan Schlebes (medical editor, is a shareholder in Fresenius SE & Co KGaA). None of the other individuals in control of the content for this article reported relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies. For details, please review our full conflict of interest (COI) policy.
  16. Torres GM, Cernigliaro JG, Abbitt PL, et al. Iliopsoas compartment: normal anatomy and pathologic processes.. RadioGraphics. 1995; 15 (6): p.1285-1297.doi: 10.1148/radiographics.15.6.8577956 . | Open in Read by QxMD

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