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Hip Disorders

What Are Hip Disorders?

Hip disorders are disorders that affect the hip joint. The hip joint is a ball and socket that allows the thigh to move in different directions. It also allows the hips to support the weight of the body. Inside the hip joint is cartilage, the tough but flexible substance that lines the ends of joints. The hip joint resides inside a capsule containing lubricating fluid, which helps the hip move smoothly. Ligaments keep the ball of the joint from slipping out of the socket. Hip disorders can affect any of these parts, including ligaments and cartilage.

What Causes Hip Disorders?

Hip disorders are often due to developmental conditions, injuries, chronic conditions, or infections.


Degeneration of cartilage in the joint causes osteoarthritis. This makes the cartilage split and become brittle. In some cases, pieces of the cartilage break off in the hip joint. Once the cartilage wears down enough, it fails to cushion the hip bones, causing pain and inflammation.

Developmental Dysplasia

This condition occurs when a newborn baby has a dislocated hip or a hip that easily dislocates. A shallow hip socket that allows the ball to easily slip in and out is the cause of developmental dysplasia.

Perthes Disease

This disease affects children between the ages of 3 and 11. Perthes disease is the result of reduced blood supply to bone cells. This causes some of the bone cells in the femur to die and the bone to lose strength.

Irritable Hip Syndrome

Irritable hip syndrome can be common in children after an upper respiratory infection. It causes hip pain that results in limping. In most cases it resolves by itself.

Soft Tissue Pain and Referred Pain

Pain in the hip may be due to an injury or defect affecting the soft tissues outside of the hip. This is known as referred pain.

Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis

A slipped capital femoral epiphysis is a separation of the ball of the hip joint from the thigh bone (femur) at the upper growing end (growth plate) of the bone. This is only seen in growing children.  Surgically stabilizing the joint with pins is a common effective treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of a Hip Disorder?

The hip is a complicated joint made of bone, cartilage, ligaments, muscle, and a lubricating fluid. As a result, the symptoms of a hip disorder will differ depending on the cause of the disorder and the part of the hip joint that’s causing problems. Common symptoms of a hip disorder include:

  • pain in the hip
  • limping
  • reduced movement in the hip joint
  • referred pain (may be felt in the leg)
  • muscle stiffness
  • pain in the leg when you apply weight on that leg

People with arthritis may experience chronic pain and pain when walking. If you fall or have an accident involving your leg and you develop swelling or pain in your hip, seek medical attention immediately. These are signs that a fracture may be present. An untreated fracture can cause serious complications.

How Are Hip Disorders Diagnosed?

If you have hip pain, your doctor will perform a physical examination and run imaging tests to try to diagnose the cause. A simple visual examination of the hip may reveal a deformity or injury. Your doctor will often manipulate your leg in different directions, looking for resistance, a popping sensation, or pain. These can indicate the source of the hip problem. However, more tests may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

Imaging Tests

Common imaging tests used to diagnose hip disorders include:

  • X-ray
  • ultrasound
  • bone scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • arthrogram

Imaging tests allow the doctor to view the hip in detail. They’ll be able to see any fractures, deformities, or swelling using these imaging tests.

Bone Biopsy

Your doctor may choose to do a bone biopsy to check for abnormalities in the bone and surrounding tissues. During a bone biopsy, a surgeon will use a needle to take a small sample of your bone. The sample may reveal abnormalities in the bone’s cells. This will lead the doctor to the cause of the hip disorder.

What Are the Treatments for Hip Disorders?

Medications can treat inflammation caused by arthritis. Medications also relieve the pain associated with hip disorders. Pain relief medications are often helpful in treating irritable hip syndrome and soft tissue pain. 

Surgery can often correct fractures and severe arthritis. A treatment for slipped capital femoral epiphysis is to screw the femoral head back into place, preventing it from slipping out again. Repair to some of the tendons, cartilage, or ligaments may be possible. In extreme cases, especially in people with severe arthritis or an injury, hip replacement surgery (hip arthroplasty) may be a possibility. The total hip prosthesis is made of metal or a type of ceramic or polyethelene (type of plastic), and has several components, including a ball and a socket. They are resistant to corrosion and wear and tear. Hip replacement surgery is a fairly major procedure, but most people will resume most normal activities by six to eight weeks after surgery.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Complications of a hip disorder include the inability to walk properly and the possibility of lifelong treatment for chronic pain. Some people may have permanent deformities due to the disorder. Depending on the severity of the disorder, you may need several surgeries to correct it.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Feb 10, 2016: William Morrison, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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