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What Is Hip Dysplasia?

August 1, 2018  |  Staff

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket type joint that is formed where the femur (thigh bone) meets the pelvis. When hip dysplasia is present, it essentially means that the hip socket is too shallow to support the ball of the hip. A joint that is the wrong shape or too shallow will wear out at a faster rate than one that has a more normal shape. The cartilage in your joints cannot be repaired or re-grown by the body. This cartilage surface needs to last a lifetime or it will cause stiffness and pain as the joint wears out.

Common Symptoms

Signs and symptoms vary by age group. While most cases of hip dysplasia are diagnosed during adolescence or adulthood, some adults never even know they have this problem until their hip starts hurting. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and are usually progressive by worsening over time.

IN INFANTS: You might notice a slight difference in length between the right and left leg. If left untreated, the child may develop a limp when they start walking. You may also notice that one hip is less flexible than the other during diaper changes.

IN TEENAGERS AND ADULTS: Hip dysplasia can cause pain in the hip or groin area when they are active. This increasing pain can decrease their ability to participate in sports or other activities. They may notice a catching or locking sensation in their hip joint. You may also notice they have developed a limp or change in the way they walk. This is typically due to one leg being longer than the other.

Causes & Risk factors

Hip dysplasia tends to run in families and is more common in girls due to a hormone called relaxin that is released by women during the birth process. At birth, the hip joint is made of soft cartilage that gradually hardens into bone. The ball and socket need to fit together perfectly. When the ball does not rest firmly into the socket, the socket will, in turn, not form firmly around the ball and the socket will become too shallow.

The most common risk factors include first pregnancy, breech birth, large baby, gender and genetic history. It has also been shown that certain ethnicities may be more prone to acquiring the disorder.

Is Hip Dysplasia Treatable?

Hip dysplasia is, in fact, a treatable developmental disorder. The disorder typically appears in infancy but can lead to chronic disability if left untreated. At some point, most people with hip dysplasia will need surgery to build a proper socket for the hip.

If caught and treated in time, some of the cartilage may be intact and surgery is then possible to re-align the joint. Essentially, the patient affected by hip dysplasia has walked unaligned for so long, that they are out of balance and wearing their joints unevenly. By re-aligning the joint, you will be in a better position for weight-bearing and the joint will last longer.

In the case that the joint surface is completely worn out, total hip replacement is the only option.

Are There Non-Surgical Treatments Available For Adult Hip Dysplasia?

Unfortunately, non-surgical methods rarely provide a lasting solution for hip dysplasia since the joint itself is not properly formed and misalignment has likely caused further damage. Some lifestyle changes, such as using a cane or losing weight, can help to decrease the pressure on your hip joint, but the relief is only temporary without surgery.


If you have just given birth to a baby you suspect has hip dysplasia or if you are a teenager or adult suffering from symptoms you fear may be related to the disorder, call us at 800-698-1280 to schedule an appointment with one of our hip specialists.

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