It usually takes a traumatic injury – like being in a car accident or falling from a significant height – to cause a hip dislocation. And if or when it happens, it’s a serious medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. While the initial treatment is quick, it isn’t without pain, and there is often a long recovery time.
A hip dislocation occurs when the head of the thighbone (the femur) is forced out of its socket in the pelvis (or hip bone). The hip itself is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is the femoral head at the upper end of the femur, and the socket is formed by the acetabulum, which is part of the large pelvis bone.
A Painful Experience
When there is a hip dislocation, the femoral head is pushed either backward out of the socket, or forward. In approximately 90 percent of hip dislocation cases, the thighbone is pushed out of the socket in a backwards direction. That’s called a posterior dislocation. It leaves the lower leg in a fixed position, with the knee and foot rotated in toward the middle of the body.
When the thighbone slips out of its socket in a forward direction – what is known as an anterior dislocation – the hip is bent only slightly, and the leg will rotate out and away from the middle of the body.
In either case, a hip dislocation is extremely painful because the ligaments, labrum, muscles, and other soft tissues holding the bones in place are often torn and damaged. Also, nerves around the hip may be injured. You are unable to move your leg and, if there’s nerve damage, you may not have feeling in your foot or ankle.
The most common cause of traumatic hip dislocations are motor vehicle collisions in which the knee is forced against the dashboard. That drives the thigh backwards, which pops the ball head of the femur out of the hip socket. You can reduce your risk of hip dislocation during a collision by wearing a seatbelt at all times.
How Hip Dislocations Are Treated
An orthopedic surgeon can usually diagnose a hip dislocation simply by looking at the position of the leg. However, the doctor will conduct a thorough physical evaluation since hip dislocations often involve additional injuries. The doctor may order X-rays or other imaging tests to pinpoint the exact position of the dislocated bones and identify any additional fractures in the hip or thighbone.
If there aren’t other injuries, the doctor will administer an anesthetic or sedative, then manipulate the bones back into their proper position. This procedure is called a reduction. A hip reduction takes a lot of force, combined with just the right movement and positioning.
If torn soft tissue or small bone fragments block the bone from going back into the socket, surgery may be necessary to remove the loose tissues and fragments and correctly position the bones. Once the reduction is complete, the doctor will order another set of X-rays and possibly a CT scan to be sure the bones are in proper position.
It can take up to three months for a hip to heal after a dislocation. And if there are additional fractures, the rehabilitation period could be longer. In the meantime, your doctor may recommend limiting your hip motion for several weeks to prevent another dislocation. Also, physical therapy is often recommended.
Within a short time, patients often start walking again with the aid of crutches. Also, walkers and canes can help patients regain their mobility.
The Colorado Center for Orthopaedic Excellence in Colorado Springs provides treatment for patients with hip dislocations and other needs. From sports injuries to car accidents, our board-certified orthopedic surgeons can diagnose your condition and explain your treatment options. Call us today at (719) 623-1050 for an appointment.