Hip Dislocation: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery

A hip dislocation is when the hip’s ball joint comes out of its socket. This painful medical emergency typically prevents you from walking until it’s repositioned. Most hip dislocations result from a traumatic event and take months to heal, sometimes requiring surgery. Keeping your hips healthy and practicing general safety precautions are important for preventing hip dislocations.

Hip Dislocation Causes

hip dislocation

The hip is typically a very secure joint, and moving it out of place generally takes a lot of force. Therefore most hip dislocations result from a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, fall, or collision during sports. If the force from such an incident pops the ball joint at the top of the femur (thighbone) out of the hip socket in the pelvis (acetabulum), this is a hip dislocation. 

Some people are more prone to dislocating a hip than others, however. Those with a development condition called hip dysplasia have a poor fit between the femur and hip socket. They may have a shallow hip socket or loose hip muscles and ligaments that make the joint easier to displace.

Those who’ve undergone hip replacement surgery are also more likely to dislocate their hip without suffering a significant injury. These individuals can dislocate a hip through regular daily activities as simple as standing up or crossing their legs. 

Is a hip dislocation serious? 

A hip dislocation is a serious medical emergency. Not only do you need immediate care for the pain and to address the inability to walk, but surrounding blood vessels, tissues, ligaments, and nerves need to be checked and possibly treated alongside the dislocation of the bone. Sometimes additional bones, such as those in the pelvis or leg, are broken and need treatment as well. The injury can cause long-term damage if not fixed right away. The longer it goes untreated, the more destabilized the bone becomes. This increases the chances of additional dislocations and the development of arthritis

hip dysplasia hip dislocation hip subluxation

Sometimes a hip joint only comes part way out of its socket. This is called a subluxation, and it can be mild or severe. Subluxations are more common in people with hip dysplasia and those who’ve had a hip replacement. 

Severe subluxations are typically caused by an injury and can be as painful and disabling as a full dislocation. More mild hip subluxations are often caused by general wear and tear to the hip, such as cartilage eroding over time. This type of subluxation may recur if the chronic underlying condition is not addressed.

With a mild subluxation, you may still be able to walk but could feel a snapping in the joint when you move or have difficulty putting your full weight on that leg. You may be able to pop the joint back in place yourself through gentle stretching or massage. It is important, however, not to try to fix a dislocated hip yourself. See your orthopedic specialist to identify the cause of your subluxation and determine how to best prevent it from recurring.

Can you walk with a dislocated hip?

When a person dislocates their hip, their leg typically becomes locked in one position. The leg is often rotated inward, with the toes pointed toward the other leg (a posterior hip dislocation). But in a few cases, it is rotated away from the other leg (an anterior hip dislocation). The leg may appear shorter than the other, and the hip may be swollen or discolored. 

dislocated hip

This injury is generally acutely painful, causing muscle spasms and an inability to put weight on that leg or move it. You may have pain in your sciatic nerve that impacts your ability to flex your foot and toes. Some people develop osteonecrosis, where bone tissue begins to fracture and die due to damage to the femoral artery. Over time, arthritis caused by damage to the joint’s cartilage (the labrum) can develop. This increases the chance of needing a hip replacement later. 

Generally speaking, a hip that’s dislocated is obvious. Your urgent care physician or orthopedic hip specialist will still perform an X-ray or CT scan to check the position and integrity of the bones and look for any additional issues in the surrounding nerves, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. 

Do you need surgery for a dislocated hip?

If you think you’ve dislocated your hip, go to the emergency room immediately. Call an ambulance, and do not attempt to move on your own. Once the extent of the issue is determined, your orthopedic hip surgeon will move the joint back in place—a process called a reduction. 

If you do not have additional injuries, your hip specialist can do this externally—a closed reduction. You will be given a combination of anesthetic and sedatives or perhaps go under general anesthesia for this process. 

If you have additional injuries, such as fractures or damage to surrounding tissues, you may need surgery. Treatment is also often surgical for infants with hip dislocation from hip dysplasia or those with an artificial hip. 

Preventing Hip Dislocations

hip exercises

Common sense safety measures are the best method for preventing a dislocated hip. Wear your seatbelt in cars and use protective gear when playing sports. Use proper equipment when working at heights or doing regular activities like replacing light bulbs or going down stairs. 

Keep your hip joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons strong and flexible with regular exercise. This is especially important If you’ve dislocated your hip before, as it may be more likely to dislocate again. For those with hip dysplasia, seek early treatment from an orthopedic hip specialist to prevent future injuries. 

How long does a dislocated hip take to heal?

Once the joint has been put back into its proper position, it can take two to three months for the hip to heal. It may take longer if there are additional broken bones or if you’ve had hip surgery. During that time, your movement will be restricted and you may need a brace or crutches. Work with your hip specialist to gradually increase physical therapy exercises to regain your strength. 

If you have a hip injury or want to speak with an orthopedic hip specialist about keeping your hips strong and flexible, please comment below or contact us

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