congenital hip dysplasia

Congenital Hip Dysplasia



A condition of abnormal development of the hip, resulting in hip joint instability and potential dislocation of the thigh bone from the socket in the pelvis. This condition has been more recently termed developmental hip dysplasia, as it often develops over the first few weeks, months, or years of life.


Congenital hip dysplasia is a disorder in children that is either present at birth or shortly thereafter. During gestation, the infant's hip should be developing with the head of the thigh bone (femur) sitting perfectly centered in its shallow socket (acetabulum). The acetabulum should cover the head of the femur as if it were a ball sitting inside of a cup. In the event of congenital hip dysplasia, the development of the acetabulum in an infant allows the femoral head to ride upward out of the joint socket, especially when weight bearing begins.

Causes and symptoms

Clinical studies show a familial tendency toward hip dysplasia, with more females affected than males. This disorder is found in many cultures around the world. However, statistics show that the Native American population has a high incidence of hip dislocation. This has been documented to be due to the common practice of swaddling and using cradleboards for restraining the infants. This places the infant's hips into extreme adduction (brought together). The incidence of congenital hip dysplasia is also higher in infants born by caesarian and breech position births. Evidence also shows a greater chance of this hip abnormality in the first born compared to the second or third child. Hormonal changes within the mother during pregnancy, resulting in increased ligament laxity, is thought to possibly cross over to the placenta and cause the baby to have lax ligaments while still in the womb. Other symptoms of complete dislocation include a shortening of the leg and limited ability to abduct the leg.


Because the abnormalities of this hip problem often vary, a thorough physical examination is necessary for an accurate diagnosis of congenital hip dysplasia. The hip disorder can be diagnosed by moving the hip to determine if the head of the femur is moving in and out of the hip joint. One specific method, called the Ortolani test, begins with each of the examiner's hands around the infant's knees, with the second and third fingers pointing down the child's thigh. With the legs abducted (moved apart), the examiner may be able to discern a distinct clicking sound with motion. If symptoms are present with a noted increase in abduction, the test is considered positive for hip joint instability. It is important to note this test is only valid a few weeks after birth.
The Barlow method is another test performed with the infant's hip brought together with knees in full bent position. The examiner's middle finger is placed over the outside of the hipbone while the thumb is placed on the inner side of the knee. The hip is abducted to where it can be felt if the hip is sliding out and then back in the joint. In older babies, if there is a lack of range of motion in one hip or even both hips, it is possible that the movement is blocked because the hip has dislocated and the muscles have contracted in that position. Also in older infants, hip dislocation is evident if one leg looks shorter than the other.
X-ray films can be helpful in detecting abnormal findings of the hip joint. X rays may also be helpful in finding the proper positioning of the hip joint for treatments of casting. Ultrasound has been noted as a safe and effective tool for the diagnosis of congenital hip dysplasia. Ultrasound has advantages over x rays, as several positions are noted during the ultrasound procedure. This is in contrast to only one position observed during the x ray.


The objective of treatment is to replace the head of the femur into the acetabulum and, by applying constant pressure, to enlarge and deepen the socket. In the past, stabilization was achieved by placing rolled cotton diapers or a pillow between the thighs, thereby keeping the knees in a frog like position. More recently, the Pavlik harness and von Rosen splint are commonly used in infants up to the age of six months. A stiff shell cast may be used, which achieves the same purpose, spreading the legs apart and forcing the head of the femur into the acetabulum. In some cases, in older children between six to 18 months, surgery may be necessary to reposition the joint. Also at this age, the use of closed manipulation may be applied successfully, by moving the leg around manually to replace joint. Operations are not only performed to reduce the dislocation of the hip, but also to repair a defect in the acetabulum. A cast is applied after the operation to hold the head of the femur in the correct position. The use of a home traction program is now more common. However, after the age of eight years, surgical procedures are primarily done for pain reduction measures only. Total hip surgeries may be inevitable later in adulthood.

Alternative treatment

Nonsurgical treatments include exercise programs, orthosis (a force system, often involving braces), and medications. A physical therapist may develop a program that includes strengthening, range-of-motion exercises, pain control, and functional activities. Chiropractic medicine may be helpful, especially the procedures of closed manipulations, to reduce the dislocated hip joint.

Key terms

Acetabulum — The large cup-shaped cavity at the junction of pelvis and femur or thigh bone.
Orthosis — A force system designed to control or correct or compensate for a bone deformity, deforming forces, or forces absent from the body.


Unless corrected soon after birth, abnormal stresses cause malformation of the developing femur, with a characteristic limp or waddling gait. If cases of congenital hip dysplasia go untreated, the child will have difficulty walking, which could result in life-long pain. In addition, if this condition goes untreated, the abnormal hip positioning will force the acetabulum to locate to another position to accommodate the displaced femur.


Prevention includes proper prenatal care to determine the position of the baby in the womb. This may be helpful in preparing for possible breech births associated with hip problems. Avoiding excessive and prolonged infant hip adduction may help prevent strain on the hip joints. Early diagnosis remains an important part of prevention of congenital hip dysplasia.



March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. 1275 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, NY 10605. (914) 428-7100.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

developmental hip dysplasia

a developmental abnormality in which a neonate's hips easily become dislocated; etiology is complex, with birthing presentation and mechanical, familial, and hormonal factors all contributing; female predominance is 6:1.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012

con·gen·i·tal hip dys·pla·si·a

(kŏn-jen'i-tăl hip dis-plā'zē-ă)
A developmental abnormality in which a neonate's hips easily become dislocated; etiology is complex, with mechanical, familial, hormonal, and obstetric factors all contributing; female predominance is 9:1.
Synonym(s): developmental hip dysplasia.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012
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Given concerns for congenital hip dysplasia, his pediatrician attempted to order a hip ultrasound.
Mrs Earl-Park, from Swansea, was born with congenital hip dysplasia and has had 14 major hip operations since birth.
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Brierly has congenital hip dysplasia, which meant she was born without a hip socket and had to have numerous operations as a child.
"Congenital hip dysplasia in Sicily" Pediatr Med Chir.
Acetabular rim pathology secondary to congenital hip dysplasia in the adult.
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On waking from surgery I received an even graver diagnosis: I had congenital hip dysplasia that had gone undiagnosed for 23 years.
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