Hip Dysplasia in Adults: Comprehensive Guide to Causes and Relief

Hip Dysplasia in Adults

Hip dysplasia is a medical condition where the hip socket doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thighbone, allowing the hip joint to become partially or completely dislocated. Although it is more commonly diagnosed during infancy, hip dysplasia can also affect adults. This article delves into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for adults living with this condition.

Understanding hip dysplasia in adults requires considering its potential causes, which can range from a congenital issue to one that develops over time. The symptoms of hip dysplasia can vary, with some individuals experiencing pain, instability, or difficulty in movement. Proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing the condition effectively and preventing further complications.

Key Takeaways

  • Hip dysplasia is when the hip joint becomes partially or completely dislocated and can affect both infants and adults.
  • Recognizing hip dysplasia’s potential causes and symptoms is important to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Early intervention and appropriate treatment options can help improve the quality of life for individuals living with hip dysplasia.

Understanding Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the hip socket, or acetabulum, doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thigh bone (femoral head), causing the hip joint to become partially or completely dislocated. This ball-and-socket joint dysfunction can lead to pain, instability, and eventually arthritis. Hip dysplasia can be present from birth, known as congenital hip dysplasia, or it can develop during adolescence or adulthood. Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) is another term to describe this condition.

The exact cause of hip dysplasia is not completely understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some infants may be born with a shallow hip socket, while others may develop issues due to their position in the womb or problems during the birthing process. In some cases, hip dysplasia may not be diagnosed until adulthood, when the condition starts causing pain or other symptoms.

Adult Hip Dysplasia

Adults with hip dysplasia typically experience symptoms such as hip pain, usually in the front of the groin, a feeling of hip instability, or limping while walking or moving. In some cases, hip dysplasia can lead to premature osteoarthritis and may significantly affect an individual’s quality of life.

Diagnosis of hip dysplasia often involves a thorough physical examination, imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans, and in some cases, a referral to an orthopedic specialist. Proper diagnosis is crucial for determining the most appropriate treatment plan for each individual.

Treatment options for hip dysplasia in adults vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual’s overall health. Non-surgical treatments may include physical therapy, medication to manage pain and inflammation, or the use of assistive devices like crutches or a cane. When non-surgical treatments are ineffective, surgery may be required to correct the hip joint. Surgical procedures can include arthroscopy, osteotomy, or total hip replacement, depending on the patient’s specific needs.

In summary, hip dysplasia is a condition that affects the ball-and-socket joint of the hip and is characterized by a shallow acetabulum, leading to instability and pain. It is essential to obtain a proper diagnosis and proceed with the most suitable treatment plan to manage this condition.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Adults

Hip dysplasia can occur at various stages of life, from infancy to adulthood. Several factors contribute to the development of this condition, making it essential to understand its causes.

One of the primary causes of hip dysplasia is being born with the condition. Infants often have hip instability due to developmental issues in the womb, especially if there is limited amniotic fluid or oligohydramnios. Additionally, infants with a family history of hip dysplasia are at a higher risk of developing the condition themselves.

Hip Dysplasia in Adults: Comprehensive Guide to Causes and Relief

Breech birth, which is when the baby is positioned feet or buttocks first rather than headfirst, is another factor that increases the risk of hip dysplasia in babies. This position can exert abnormal pressure on the developing hip joint, leading to instability or other abnormalities.

Age is another risk factor for hip dysplasia. While the condition is more common in infants and young children, some adults may develop hip dysplasia as they age. This can result from various factors, including genetics, bone or joint abnormalities, and other health conditions.

In some cases, hip dysplasia can develop in adults due to damage or wear and tear on the hip joint over time. This can cause instability in the joint, leading to pain, stiffness, and a limited range of motion. As the joint continues to deteriorate, it may eventually lead to hip dysplasia.

Knowing the potential causes of hip dysplasia is crucial for early detection and treatment. Whether an individual is born with the condition or develops it later in life, understanding and addressing the risk factors can significantly improve their quality of life and enable them to manage the condition effectively.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia symptoms can vary in severity and can present themselves in different ways, depending on the individual. Generally, people with this condition may experience discomfort and a limited range of motion in the hip joint. Below are the most common symptoms associated with hip dysplasia.

One of the primary symptoms of hip dysplasia is pain in the groin area. This pain typically increases with physical activity, such as walking or running. Over time, it can become more constant and severe, even affecting the person while they sleep on the affected side.

Another common symptom involves a limping or waddling gait. People with hip dysplasia may find that their hip joint feels unstable, causing them to limp or walk with a waddling motion. This can be more apparent when engaging in activities that require weight-bearing on the affected side, such as climbing stairs.

A person with hip dysplasia may also notice a catching, snapping, or popping sensation in the hip joint when they move. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of looseness or instability as if the hip joint is moving out of its socket.

The hip joint’s range of motion can be significantly affected by hip dysplasia, making it difficult or painful to perform certain movements. The reduced mobility can have an impact on various aspects of the individual’s life, from simple daily activities to sports and exercise.

In some cases, hip dysplasia may be more pronounced on one side, leading to pain and discomfort predominantly on the left side. However, it is important to note that this condition can also affect both hips simultaneously or present differently on each side.

Diagnosis Process for Adult Hip Dysplasia

The diagnosis process for hip dysplasia in adults often begins with the patient presenting symptoms, such as hip pain or instability. Doctors will perform a thorough physical examination, assessing the hip joint’s range of motion and looking for any signs of discomfort or laxity. During well-baby visits, physicians usually check for hip dysplasia in infants by moving their legs into various positions to determine whether the hip joint fits together correctly 1.

Following the physical examination, an array of imaging tests may be necessary to reach a definitive diagnosis. X-rays are the most common diagnostic tool, as they provide a clear image of the hip joint and allow the doctor to check for any abnormalities in the bone structure. However, x-rays might not always reveal mild cases of hip dysplasia or subtle changes in the hip joint 2.

If the x-ray results are inconclusive or if further assessment is required, an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might be ordered. Ultrasound can be particularly helpful in visualizing the soft tissues of the hip joint and is often used for diagnosing hip dysplasia in infants 3. MRI, on the other hand, provides more detailed images of the hip joint and surrounding structures, making it a valuable tool for detecting abnormalities not visible on x-rays 4.

In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) scan may also be utilized to assess the hip joint in greater detail. The CT scan creates a three-dimensional image, offering a comprehensive view of the hip joint and allowing for more precise evaluation 5.

Throughout the diagnosis process, doctors will carefully review the patient’s medical history, physical exam findings, and imaging test results to determine the cause of hip pain and whether hip dysplasia is present. Timely diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize the risk of potential complications and to improve the patient’s quality of life.

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hip-dysplasia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350214
  2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/hip-dysplasia-7100933
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hip-dysplasia
  4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/hip-dysplasia
  5. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17903-hip-dysplasia

Treatment Options

Treatment options for adult hip dysplasia vary depending on the severity of the condition and the symptoms experienced by the patient. The main goal of treatment is to alleviate pain, improve hip function, and prevent further joint damage. Some common treatment methods include:

Nonsurgical options: These are typically recommended for mild cases or when surgery is not a suitable option. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Physical therapy: This helps to strengthen the muscles surrounding the hip joint, improve range of motion, and maintain joint stability. It can also aid in pain management.
  • Pain relief medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in the hip joint.
  • Bracing: Supportive devices such as a brace or harness can be used to provide stability and support for the hip joint.

Surgical options: For more severe cases of hip dysplasia, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying issue and restore hip function. The type of surgery performed depends on factors like age, severity of the condition, and overall health. Some common surgical options include:

  • Periacetabular osteotomy (PAO): This procedure involves repositioning the hip socket to provide better coverage of the femoral head. PAO surgery can be an effective treatment for adult hip dysplasia in patients who have preserved joint space and no significant arthritis.
  • Arthroscopy: Hip arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows the surgeon to view and repair damaged tissue within the hip joint. This procedure is often used to address labral tears and impingement issues associated with hip dysplasia.
  • Closed reduction: In some cases, the hip joint can be realigned without making any incisions. This is done by gently manipulating the hip joint under anesthesia to achieve the desired position. A brace or harness, such as the Pavlik harness, may be used after the procedure to maintain the new position.
  • Total hip replacement: In cases where the hip dysplasia has led to severe arthritis and damage to the joint, a total hip replacement may be necessary. In this procedure, the damaged joint is replaced with an artificial implant to restore functionality and relieve pain.

It is important for patients to consult with an experienced orthopedic surgeon to discuss the most appropriate treatment options for their specific situation.

Complications and Prognosis

Hip dysplasia in adults can lead to various complications if left untreated.

One of the most common complications is the development of osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint condition that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. This is due to the abnormal wear and tear on the joint, particularly the cartilage that lines the hip joint, causing inflammation and discomfort.

Another potential complication is the loosening of ligaments around the hip joint. When the hip joint is misaligned, it puts additional strain on the surrounding ligaments, which can become overstretched or torn. This can result in a sensation of instability or looseness in the hip, further impacting an individual’s mobility and leading to a higher risk of hip dislocation.

Hip dislocation itself is a serious concern for adults with hip dysplasia. A loose, unstable hip joint increases the likelihood of the femoral head slipping out of the socket (acetabulum), causing intense pain and potential damage to the surrounding nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. A dislocated hip requires urgent medical attention and could possibly lead to surgery.

The prognosis for adults with hip dysplasia depends on various factors, such as the severity of the condition, the success of treatment, and the presence of any complications. Treatment options for adult hip dysplasia may include non-surgical methods like physical therapy, pain management, and weight loss. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary, which can involve the repositioning and reshaping of the pelvis and femur bones or even total hip replacement.

Surgical interventions for hip dysplasia, like any surgery, carry their own set of potential complications. This may include infection, unintended nerve or blood vessel damage, or the loosening of screws or other hardware to secure the hip joint. Despite these risks, many patients experience significant improvement in their hip function and pain levels following surgery.

Living with Hip Dysplasia

Living with hip dysplasia can be challenging, especially for young females and teenagers. The condition can affect the individual’s daily life and overall health. However, being informed and aware of ways to manage the symptoms can help improve the person’s quality of life.

One way to manage the pain and discomfort associated with hip dysplasia is through physical therapy. It can help strengthen the muscles around the hip joint and improve stability. Non-surgical treatments such as using pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs can also help alleviate pain.

The most important way to manage hip dysplasia is to get your hips as strong as possible. Strengthening is absolutely vital for adults with hip dysplasia.

Great hip strength holds the hip bone in the smaller socket and helps prevent hip dislocation. Without adequate strength, the only restraint to a hip dislocation in the ligaments of the hip, which will slowly stretch out over time.

In some cases, physicians may recommend cortisone injections for temporary relief from pain and inflammation, which can last three to six months. However, it is essential to consider that multiple cortisone injections may soften the cartilage and increase the rate of deterioration.

For individuals with hip dysplasia, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital. Regular low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and yoga can help improve joint flexibility and reduce discomfort. Additionally, maintaining an ideal body weight can minimize the stress on the hip joint.

Adaptations in daily life can also assist in managing hip dysplasia, such as using assistive devices (e.g., canes, crutches, or walkers) for support and stability while walking. Furthermore, ensuring ergonomic workspace arrangements and avoiding activities that provoke pain can contribute to a better quality of life.

In conclusion, while living with hip dysplasia can be challenging, staying informed, seeking medical advice, and making lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve the quality of life for young females and teenagers affected by the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions: Adult Hip Dysplasia


In conclusion, hip dysplasia is a common condition that can cause discomfort and pain in adults.

While the exact cause of hip dysplasia is not always clear, it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for managing symptoms and preventing further damage to the hip joint.

There are several treatment options available, ranging from conservative measures like physical therapy and pain management to surgical interventions like hip arthroscopy or hip replacement. With proper management, many people with hip dysplasia are able to find relief and continue to lead active, fulfilling lives.

About the Author

James C. Lee DPT, SCS, CSCS
James is a native of Limestone, TN. He attended the University of Tennessee, receiving his BS in Health and Exercise Science and completing his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Saint Augustine. James worked as a traveling physical therapist and treats various patients with a specialty in Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. James is a board-certified Sports Physical Therapist and a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and is certified in Functional Dry Needling, Running Gait Analysis, and Blood Flow Restriction Therapy. James contributes his expertise to physical therapy websites and other guest appearances.

About the Author

Sarah Johnson, DPT, CSCS
Sarah Johnson is a licensed physical therapist with over 10 years of experience in the field. She specializes in sports rehabilitation and has worked with athletes at all levels, from high school to semi-professional. Sarah is passionate about helping her patients recover from injuries and achieve their goals through physical therapy and functional-based medicine. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis and hiking.

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