Comprehensive Guide to Hip Dysplasia: 5 Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

Hip Dysplasia

When new parents bring their tiny one home, they often feel a mix of joy, excitement, and a touch of nervousness. But nothing can prepare them for the worry that follows when they hear the term “hip dysplasia.” Understanding this condition is crucial to ensuring your child’s healthy growth and development. 


Hip dysplasia, a condition that affects the hip joint, is relatively common in infants and young children. Yet, many parents are unfamiliar with it until they face a diagnosis. Let’s explore everything you need to know about what it is, how it’s diagnosed, and the most effective treatment options.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia, also called developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), refers to a range of hip joint abnormalities that occur during growth. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint where the thigh bone (femur) meets the pelvis. In a healthy hip joint, the ball-shaped femoral head sits snugly within the socket. However, with hip dysplasia, this alignment is imperfect. The socket may be too shallow, causing the femoral head to dislocate partially or completely.


Severity Levels:

  1. Mild Dysplasia: The hip socket is shallow but still provides enough coverage to keep the femoral head in place. While the joint remains functional, the abnormal shape can lead to instability and increase the risk of arthritis due to uneven wear. Early detection is crucial, and non-surgical treatments like bracing can be effective.
  2. Subluxation: Here, the femoral head is partially displaced, slipping slightly out of place and creating an unstable hip joint. This misalignment can result in symptoms like limping and uneven leg lengths. Without treatment, subluxation can cause mobility issues and long-term complications. Bracing or more advanced interventions may be necessary.
  3. Dislocation: This is the most severe form, with the femoral head entirely displaced from the socket. Though it might not immediately cause pain in children, it can lead to significant mobility issues and asymmetry. Treatment often requires surgical realignment through open or closed reduction and casting to stabilize the joint.


Early intervention ensures proper management and better outcomes across these severity levels.

5 Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause is not always clear, but it is often a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

  1. Genetic Factors: Hip dysplasia frequently runs in families. If a parent or sibling has it, the child has an increased risk.
  2. Gender: Girls are more prone to it than boys.
  3. Breech Position: Babies born in a breech position, with their buttocks down, have a higher likelihood of having it.
  4. Firstborn Child: Firstborns are at a higher risk due to a snugger womb environment.
  5. Swaddling: Tightly swaddling a baby’s legs can increase the risk by preventing natural hip movement.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Identifying symptoms can be challenging for parents, as the condition might not cause pain initially. Here are some signs to watch for in infants:

  • Uneven Leg Lengths: One leg may appear shorter than the other.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Difficulty in spreading the legs apart.
  • Hip Clicking or Popping: Audible or palpable sensations when moving the hip.
  • Asymmetrical Skin Folds: Uneven creases on the thighs or buttocks.


Diagnosis: Early detection is crucial to prevent long-term complications. Pediatricians screen for it during newborn checkups and follow-up visits by performing a physical exam. Imaging tests like ultrasound (for infants) or X-rays (for older children) may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The treatment depends on the child’s age and the condition’s severity.

Non-Surgical Interventions:

  • Pavlik Harness: Suitable for infants up to 6 months old, this soft brace positions the femur in the socket, allowing the hip joint to develop correctly.
  • Abduction Braces: For infants older than six months, these braces hold the legs in a spread position, aligning the hip joint.


Surgical Interventions:

  • Closed Reduction: Performed under anesthesia, the femoral head is manually guided back into the socket, followed by a hip spica cast for stabilization.
  • Open Reduction: Required for severe dislocations or older children, this surgery involves directly repositioning the femoral head through an incision.
  • Pelvic or Femoral Osteotomy: Reshaping the hip socket or femur to improve alignment.

Long-Term Outlook

With timely intervention, most children can lead normal, active lives. However, delayed treatment may result in persistent pain, gait abnormalities, or early-onset arthritis. Regular follow-up care is essential to monitor hip development.

Take Action Against Hip Dysplasia with Pediatric Orthopedic Specialists

At Pediatric Orthopedic Specialists in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, we are dedicated to helping families navigate the challenges of hip dysplasia. We provide comprehensive evaluations and personalized treatment plans tailored to your child’s unique needs. Dr. Marcella Woiczik has been treating hip dysplasia since 2007, providing expert care for infants, children, and young adults.


Whether you are concerned about your infant’s hip development or seeking a second opinion, our specialists are here to help. Reach out today to schedule an appointment and ensure your child’s bright future, free from complications.