What is Hip Dislocation?

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  • Written By: Brenda Scott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2018
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The hip is a ball and socket joint; a joint designed for motion in which the round, knob-like top of one bone fits into a cavity, or socket, of another bone. A hip dislocation happens when the ball at the top of the thigh bone, or femur, moves out of its specific location within the socket of the hip bone, or pelvis. This condition can occur in adults as a result of some kind of severe trauma to the joint, or it can be a congenital condition in children. A congenital condition is one which is present at birth.

Congenital hip dislocation involves an abnormal formation of the ball at the top of the thigh bone. Babies with this condition may have a loose joint or a complete dislocation. Early symptoms include a clicking sound when the baby’s legs are moved apart. Once the child begins to walk, one leg seems to hike up shorter than the other leg, and the child may limp, favoring the affected side.


Congenital hip dislocation occurs more frequently in females than in males, and usually affects the left side. There also seems to be a racially linked genetic factor, since this type of hip dislocation occurs more often among Native Americans than among whites, and is rarely found among blacks. If congenital hip dislocation is left untreated, the child will grow up with an uneven walk. One leg will appear shorter than the other, and he will also experience pain, limited ability to participate in athletic activities, and early onset of arthritis. Treatment is generally recommended as soon as the condition is diagnosed.

Most cases of congenital hip dislocation can be successfully cured with the use of a harness which stabilizes the joint while allowing complete motion for the child. Once the joint is stabilized, the hip corrects itself as the child goes through his early growth stage. In some instances, when a complete dislocation exists or when the harness is ineffective, the hip joint is set in place surgically and the child will be required to wear a body cast for a period of time. This condition is completely treatable with early diagnosis, and the child should suffer no long term affects.

Hip dislocation is adults is rare, and almost always is caused by some severe trauma, such as a fall, auto or motorcycle accident, or sports injury. It often results from a broken pelvis. Symptoms include hip or leg pain, knee pain, swelling, a deformed hip joint, and the sensation that one leg is shorter than the other leg. When traumatic hip dislocation occurs, it is vital that the injury be treated immediately. If treatment is delayed, serious side effects can occur, including potentially fatal blood clots, permanent nerve damage, chronic pain, arthritis, and long-term disability.

As long as the pelvis is not broken, the treatment usually involves putting the hip back into its normal position in an operating room with the patient under anesthesia. If the hip is broken, hip replacement surgery is generally recommended. After the hip has been properly aligned, the patient is usually required to use crutches to take the pressure off the hip while it heals. Anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to strengthen the affected muscles are also part of the post-operative regimen.



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