Hip pain and resultant dysfunction is a common reason for patients to attend a sports medicine clinic. Although there may be a variety of reasons for such pain, a common cause is hip dysplasia. If detected early, patients with dysplasia may just present with pain and dysfunction such as weakness. However, dysplasia is recognised as a leading cause of early-onset hip osteoarthritis and as such, early detection and appropriate management is essential.



The hip is a ball and socket joint. Hip dysplasia is best described as a lack of containment of the ball in the socket. Think of a tennis ball resting in a soup bowl compared to a tennis ball sitting on a saucer. If you were to move the soup bowl around, it would provide better marginal stability and restrict movement of the ball compared to the saucer, which will provide little constraint to the movement of the ball.
The issue with excessive movement of the ball in the socket, often described as instability, is that it may lead to wearing of the cartilage surface or irritation of the many soft tissue constraints around the hip. The resultant symptoms may be felt at rest (sitting, standing or sleeping) or at play (walking, running, gym and sport).



Hip dysplasia is commonly associated with being female, especially in those that are first born, a multiple birth, born breech or have a family history of dysplasia. There are strong links to being hypermobile, being able to perform party tricks such as “popping your hip out” or having a long involvement in dance and gymnastics.

The first sign of hip dysplasia may be as a child or adolescent and is often felt as hip pain. Pain may be felt in the groin or in the front, side or back of the hip depending on where your socket is under-covered. Other symptoms may be weakness, giving way, limping or a sensation of catching, snapping or popping.



Treatment for hip dysplasia will vary depending on many factors including age, the architecture of the hip, the condition of the hip cartilage, hypermobility, and desired level of future athletic pursuits.

There is emerging evidence suggesting that activity modification (not cessation), postural correction, a tailored strengthening program and correction of movement patterns, may be effective in managing many patients with dysplasia. It should be noted that appropriate referral to a sports physician or orthopaedic specialist may be warranted in certain situations.



Effective treatment starts with the correct diagnosis. On average, adults with hip dysplasia see more than three healthcare providers, and have symptoms for more than 3 years, before receiving an accurate diagnosis. You may consider getting a second opinion if your hip pain is not resolving, or in fact deteriorating, with your current treatment plan.

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