Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip

Condition Basics

What is developmental hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a problem in a baby's hip joint. It may be called developmental hip dysplasia or developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). The top of the thighbone doesn't fit tightly into the hip socket. This problem may affect one or both hip joints. A baby may be born with it, or it may happen in the first year of life.

In a normal hip, the thighbone (femur) fits snugly into a cup-shaped socket in the pelvis. It is held in place by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. But in DDH, the hip socket may be too shallow or the tissues around the joint may be too loose.

In mild cases, the ligaments and other soft tissues aren't tight. This lets the thighbone move around more than normal in the hip socket. In more severe cases, the hip socket is more like a saucer than a deep cup. As a result, the ball at the top of the thighbone may slide out of the hip socket.

It's important to get DDH treated early. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to cause long-term hip problems.

What causes it?

The exact cause of developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) is not known. But some things can raise your child's chances of having it, including:

  • Having a family history of DDH.
  • Being the firstborn child.
  • Being female.
  • Being born buttocks-first (breech position).
  • Having his or her legs swaddled tightly.

What are the symptoms?

Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) isn't painful, and your baby may not have any obvious signs of a hip defect. But some babies with this problem may have:

  • One leg that seems shorter than the other.
  • Extra folds of skin on the inside of the thighs.
  • A hip joint that moves differently than the other.

A child who is walking may:

  • Walk on the toes of one foot with the heel up off the floor.
  • Walk with a limp (or waddle if both hips are affected).

How is it diagnosed?

It is usually diagnosed during a newborn's physical exam. A doctor will move the baby's legs and look and listen for signs of a problem.

If your baby is older, your doctor may diagnose developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) during the physical exam at a well-baby checkup. But it may be hard to diagnose in a baby more than 1 to 3 months old. That's because the only outward sign may be a hip joint that is less mobile or flexible than normal.

If the doctor suspects DDH but the results of a physical exam aren't clear, your child might need to have an imaging test of the hip joint, such as an ultrasound or X-ray.

How is developmental hip dysplasia treated?

Your child's hip socket won't form and grow properly if the ball at the top of the thighbone doesn't fit snugly in the joint. So treatment focuses on moving the thighbone into its normal position and keeping it in place while the joint grows.

Your child may need:

  • A Pavlik harness. This device will probably be tried first if your baby is younger than 6 months. It holds your baby's legs in a spread position with the hips bent. The harness is able to make the hips normal most of the time.
  • A hard cast, known as a spica cast. This is used for older babies. The cast keeps the hips in the proper position. It may have a bar between the legs to make it stronger.

Other forms of treatment that may be needed include:

  • Braces or splints. These may be used instead of a Pavlik harness or spica cast. Or they may be used after surgery.
  • Surgery. In some cases, this may be needed to correct a problem in the thighbone or hip socket. A child who has surgery will probably need to wear a spica cast to hold the hip joint in position until it heals.
  • Physical therapy. A child who has been in a spica cast may need to do exercises to regain movement and build muscle strength in the legs.

If treatment works well, your child probably won't have any further hip problems. But you will need to get your child's hips checked regularly to make sure that they grow and develop normally.

Credits

Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine