Identifying the Early Signs of Developmental Hip Dysplasia

Many people associate a hip dysplasia diagnosis with babies or canines. Hip dysplasia occurs in approximately one in every 1,000 live births and with many large breed dogs. However, it is also common later in life; especially in women, who account for over 80 percent of hip dysplasia cases. Whether you are a brand new parent or a seasoned veteran parent, hearing that your child might have developmental hip dysplasia can be quite concerning.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

The hip consists of the head of the thighbone, also known as the femur, and a hip socket bone. Hip dysplasia occurs when the femur is not in the right place or the socket is too shallow to fit the head of the femur. This condition can be present at birth or it can develop over the first few months or years of life. It used to be known as congenital dysplasia of the hip, but more recently the term has changed to developmental hip dysplasia to reflect the fact that the condition can develop after birth as well.

Diagnosing Developmental Hip Dysplasia

All newborn babies are checked for hip dysplasia at least once before leaving the hospital. This condition is easily corrected when caught in newborns. However, if not detected early on, it can be more difficult to treat and contribute to other issues, such as pain, problems walking, and osteoarthritis. If left untreated, hip dysplasia can have a large impact on the overall quality of one’s life. This is why early detection and treatment is so important.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Developmental Hip Dysplasia


One of the easiest identifiers of hip dysplasia is an asymmetrical buttock crease. When a child lies facedown with his or her legs straight, the skin creases that separate the legs from the buttocks should be symmetrical. If they are not, this may suggest hip dysplasia, though further testing will be required to determine if this is the right diagnosis. The longer this condition goes untreated, the more uneven the legs will become and the affected side may look shorter than the other leg.

Hip Clicks

When examined by a doctor or a nurse, some babies will have hips that click when the legs are moved in a certain fashion. Hip clicks can occur with or without hip dysplasia, but if an audible hip click is present, further testing will need to be done to determine if it is due to a development hip dysplasia. Your pediatrician should continue to check for hip clicks throughout your child’s first year of life.

Range of Motion

Some parents notice that they have problems diapering their baby because the baby will not fully spread their hips out. If your baby appears to have a decreased or limited range of motion with their hips or upper legs, bring this to the attention of the pediatrician. Sometimes range of motion problems can be a sign of hip dysplasia.


Though not usually a common symptom for children or babies, adults or teens with hip dysplasia may experience pain as an early warning sign. Continued pain in the hips or legs should be reported to a doctor. Remember: the earlier this condition is caught and treated, the better the outcome will be.


A child with developmental hip dysplasia may have a noticeable swayback once they begin to walk. This means that you will notice an exaggerated waddle or limp when your child is walking. This is usually painless, and you may see a noticeable difference in the length of the legs. Swayback is especially common if there is hip dysplasia on both sides. Remember that you are your child’s best health advocate. If you have any questions or concerns about the growth and development of your child’s hips or legs, be sure to bring it to the attention of your pediatrician. Depending on the circumstances, your pediatrician may refer your child to a pediatric orthopedist for further evaluation and treatment.