Hip Pain & Disorders

Understanding a Dislocated Hip: Causes, Treatment, and Recovery

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Can knowing treatment options for a dislocated hip help individuals expedite rehabilitation and recovery?

Dislocated Hip

A dislocated hip is an uncommon injury but can happen due to trauma or following hip replacement surgery. It usually occurs after severe trauma, including motor vehicle collisions, falls, and sometimes sports injuries. (Caylyne Arnold et al., 2017) A dislocated hip can also occur after hip replacement surgery. Other injuries like ligament tears, cartilage damage, and bone fractures can occur alongside the dislocation. Most hip dislocations are treated with a joint reduction procedure that resets the ball into the socket. It is usually done with sedation or general anesthesia. Rehabilitation takes time and could be a few months before full recovery. Physical therapy can help restore motion and strength in the hip.

What Is It?

If the hip is only partially dislocated, it’s called a hip subluxation. When this happens, the hip joint head only partially emerges from the socket. A dislocated hip is when the head or ball of the joint shifts or pops out of the socket. Because an artificial hip differs from a normal hip joint, the risk of dislocation increases after joint replacement. A study found that around 2% of individuals who undergo total hip replacement will experience hip dislocation within a year, with the cumulative risk increasing by approximately 1% over five years. (Jens Dargel et al., 2014) However, new technological prosthetics and surgical techniques are making this less common.

Hip Anatomy

  • The hip ball-and-socket joint is called the femoroacetabular joint.
  • The socket is called the acetabulum.
  • The ball is called the femoral head.

The bony anatomy and strong ligaments, muscles, and tendons help to create a stable joint. Significant force must be applied to the joint for a hip dislocation to occur. Some individuals report feeling a snapping sensation of the hip. This usually is not a hip dislocation but indicates a different disorder known as snapping hip syndrome. (Paul Walker et al., 2021)

Posterior Hip Dislocation

  • Around 90% of hip dislocations are posterior.
  • In this type, the ball is pushed backward from the socket.
  • Posterior dislocations can result in injuries or irritation to the sciatic nerve. (R Cornwall, T E Radomisli 2000)

Anterior Hip Dislocation

  • Anterior dislocations are less common.
  • In this type of injury, the ball is pushed out of the socket.

Hip Subluxation

  • A hip subluxation occurs when the hip joint ball starts to come out of the socket partially.
  • Also known as a partial dislocation, it can turn into a fully dislocated hip joint if not allowed to heal properly.

Symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • The leg is in an abnormal position.
  • Difficulty moving.
  • Severe hip pain.
  • Inability to bear weight.
  • Mechanical lower back pain can create confusion when making a proper diagnosis.
  • With a posterior dislocation, the knee and foot will be rotated towards the body’s midline.
  • An anterior dislocation will rotate the knee and foot away from the midline. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2021)

Causes

A dislocation can cause damage to the structures that hold the ball in the socket and can include:

  • Cartilage damage to the joint –
  • Tears in the labrum and ligaments.
  • Fractures of the bone at the joint.
  • Injury to the vessels that supply blood can later lead to avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis of the hip. (Patrick Kellam, Robert F. Ostrum 2016)
  • A hip dislocation increases the risk of developing joint arthritis following the injury and can raise the risk of needing a hip replacement later in life. (Hsuan-Hsiao Ma et al., 2020)

Developmental Dislocation of the Hip

  • Some children are born with developmental dislocation of the hip or DDH.
  • Children with DDH have hip joints that did not form correctly during development.
  • This causes a loose fit in the socket.
  • In some cases, the hip joint is completely dislocated.
  • In others, it’s prone to becoming dislocated.
  • In milder cases, the joint is loose but not prone to becoming dislocated. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2022)

Treatment

Joint reduction is the most common way to treat a dislocated hip. The procedure repositions the ball back into the socket and is usually done with sedation or under general anesthesia. Repositioning a hip requires significant force.  A hip dislocation is considered an emergency, and reduction should be performed immediately after the dislocation to prevent permanent complications and invasive treatment. (Caylyne Arnold et al., 2017)

  • Once the ball is back in the socket, the healthcare provider will look for bone, cartilage, and ligament injuries.
  • Depending on what the healthcare provider finds, further treatment may be necessary.
  • Fractured or broken bones may need to be repaired to keep the ball within the socket.
  • Damaged cartilage may have to be removed.

Surgery

Surgery could be necessary to return the joint to its normal position. Hip arthroscopy can minimize the invasiveness of certain procedures. A surgeon inserts a microscopic camera into the hip joint to help the surgeon repair the injury using instruments inserted through other small incisions.

Hip replacement surgery replaces the ball and socket, a common and successful orthopedic surgical procedure. This surgery may be performed for various reasons, including trauma or arthritis, as it is common to develop early arthritis of the hip after this type of trauma. This is why many who have a dislocation ultimately need hip replacement surgery. As a major surgical procedure, it is not without risks. Possible complications include:

  • Infection
  • Aseptic loosening (the loosening of the joint without infection)
  • Hip dislocation

Recovery

Recovering from a hip dislocation is a long process. Early into recovery, individuals will need to walk with crutches or other devices. Physical therapy will improve the range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the hip. Recovery time will depend on whether other injuries, such as fractures or tears, are present. If the hip joint was reduced and there were no other injuries, it may take six to ten weeks to recover to the point where weight can be placed on the leg. It could be between two and three months for a full recovery. Keeping weight off the leg is important until the surgeon or physical therapist gives the all-clear. Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic will work with an individual’s primary healthcare provider and other surgeons or specialists to develop an optimal personalized treatment plan.


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References

Arnold, C., Fayos, Z., Bruner, D., Arnold, D., Gupta, N., & Nusbaum, J. (2017). Managing dislocations of the hip, knee, and ankle in the emergency department [digest]. Emergency medicine practice, 19(12 Suppl Points & Pearls), 1–2.

Dargel, J., Oppermann, J., Brüggemann, G. P., & Eysel, P. (2014). Dislocation following total hip replacement. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 111(51-52), 884–890. doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2014.0884

Walker, P., Ellis, E., Scofield, J., Kongchum, T., Sherman, W. F., & Kaye, A. D. (2021). Snapping Hip Syndrome: A Comprehensive Update. Orthopedic reviews, 13(2), 25088. doi.org/10.52965/001c.25088

Cornwall, R., & Radomisli, T. E. (2000). Nerve injury in traumatic dislocation of the hip. Clinical orthopaedics and related research, (377), 84–91. doi.org/10.1097/00003086-200008000-00012

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2021). Hip dislocation. orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/hip-dislocation

Kellam, P., & Ostrum, R. F. (2016). Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Avascular Necrosis and Posttraumatic Arthritis After Traumatic Hip Dislocation. Journal of orthopaedic trauma, 30(1), 10–16. doi.org/10.1097/BOT.0000000000000419

Ma, H. H., Huang, C. C., Pai, F. Y., Chang, M. C., Chen, W. M., & Huang, T. F. (2020). Long-term results in the patients with traumatic hip fracture-dislocation: Important prognostic factors. Journal of the Chinese Medical Association : JCMA, 83(7), 686–689. doi.org/10.1097/JCMA.0000000000000366

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2022). Developmental dislocation (dysplasia) of the hip (DDH). orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/developmental-dislocation-dysplasia-of-the-hip-ddh/

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The information herein on "Understanding a Dislocated Hip: Causes, Treatment, and Recovery" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, acupuncture, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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