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Hip dysplasia is a condition that can affect infants and adults alike. What do parents of babies and adults with hip pain need to know about hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a condition that dog owners may know about, since it affects canines relatively frequently. Parents of young babies may know that their pediatrician checks for this condition too. But, what exactly does hip dysplasia entail? What are the symptoms, how is it diagnosed and treated, and what can the consequences actually be?

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Hip Dysplasia: What It Is

Hip dysplasia — from the name, you may guess that this condition pertains to the hip, and that it's to do with displacement. But what exactly is this condition? Look around the internet, and you will find all kinds of information:

  • The International Hip Dysplasia Institute says that “hip dysplasia means that the bones of the hip joint are not aligned correctly”.

  • The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as “a hip socket that doesn't fully cover the ball portion of the upper thighbone”.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says that it's a condition in which the “femoral head has an abnormal relationship to the acetabulum”.

  • Wikipedia is — think of it what you will — a popular source of information for many people. It says explains that hip displasia is a “congenital or acquired deformation or misalignment of the hip joint”.

  • Their entry on canine hip dysplasia does a better job of explaining the condition to lay people, and says that hip dysplasia is an “abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints”.

There are many different names for this condition, which can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later in life. Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH), Hip Dislocation, Congenital Dislocation of the Hip (CDH), loose hips and clicky hips are among the names doctors and lay people use to describe this condition.

Why so many different names? While it is clear that hip dysplasia involves an atypical formation of the hip joint that affects its functioning, the degree to which it does so varies greatly from patient to patient, from a form that can easily be missed during routine infant screenings, to a situation in which the hip bone is severely malformed and the femur head — the “ball” part of the thigh bone that is supposed to fit into the hip socket — isn't connecting to the hip bone at all.

Despite the fact that hip dysplasia is complex to understand, it's a very important condition to be aware of, both to parents (especially parents of infants) and adults with any form of hip pain.

Hip dysplasia affects thousands of people, from newborn to elderly, every year. Around one in 20 full-term babies suffers from a some form of hip instability, while two to three of every thousand babies will need treatment. Hip dysplasia is the most common cause of hip arthritis in adults, and the hips will wear out more quickly in people with hip dysplasia too. Hip dysplasia can be unilateral, affecting only one hip, or bilateral, affecting both hips. The condition is more common in females than in males.

I am a woman, now in my thirties. I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia during infancy, but I grew up knowing next to nothing about the condition. “The doctor made you wear this huge cushion in between your legs to spread them and help your hips develop properly,” my mother told me.

“When he finally said you could stop wearing it, your father was so happy he burned it”.

Other than that story, which I heard many times, I was told I might need some kind of operation in my early twenties. My grandfather, who apparently had the same condition, had a hip replacement operation when he was already old — there is, you see, a hereditary component to hip dysplasia, though there are no hard and fast rules about who will end up with the condition.

That's all I knew, for a very long time. Then, I started experiencing hip pains at night. Sometimes my knees hurt too. I got through my childhood, teens, and twenties without thinking about hip dysplasia but then it apparently caught up with me. This can happen. If it happens to you, please seek medical attention — if you know you were diagnosed with the condition as a child, but also if you weren't or are not sure.

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