Healthy hips are important for full range of motion in the lower body. Your hips affect how you walk, sit, jump, exercise and any other movement that involves your legs.
Hip subluxation happens when a hip becomes unstable and partially slips out of the socket, but then returns to its original position on its own, says board-certified orthopedist Sean Rajaee, MD, adult reconstruction and joint replacement surgeon and director of the Outpatient Hip and Knee Center at Cedars-Sinai.
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It's uncomfortable and often painful, usually caused by an injury like falling or a car accident. Here, learn the difference between subluxation and dislocation along with how to treat and prevent hip subluxation.
Subluxation vs. Dislocation
Hip subluxation and dislocation are similar but can differ in severity. Subluxation is when an unstable hip partially dislocates, or slips in and out of its socket. It feels like your hip is snapping in the socket when you move, or like you can't put your full weight on your leg, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Mild subluxation typically doesn't require medical help and in most cases will resolve on its own, Dr. Rajaee says. But if it's a severe case of hip subluxation, a doctor may need to reset the hip.
Hip dislocation, on the other hand, is when a hip comes entirely out of the socket. This usually happens after a traumatic event, Dr. Rajaee says.
"When a patient goes through significant physical trauma, such as a high-speed car crash, it can cause the hip to dislocate from the socket, requiring immediate medical attention in the hospital," he adds.
Walking or putting weight on your leg becomes impossible when your hip is dislocated. In worst-case scenarios, the ball of your femur or your socket could get fractured and require surgery.
Signs Your Hip Is Out of Alignment
Hip subluxation and hip dislocation share the following symptoms, per Dr. Rajaee:
- Joint pain
- Difficulty moving your leg
- Difficulty walking or standing
- Muscle spasms
A doctor can help you determine whether you have a subluxation or dislocation. They can often detect it just by looking at it, but they may also want you to get a full physical exam, X-rays or a CT scan before they treat you, per the Cleveland Clinic.
And of course, get help immediately if you're in severe pain or can't walk.
Is There a Hip Subluxation Test?
While there are no specific tests to find hip subluxation in adults, there are a few tests used on babies and young children to help determine whether they have subluxation or hip dysplasia (when the bones in the hip joint don't fit together correctly, per the Cleveland Clinic).
"These tests are known as the Barlow Maneuver and Ortolani test," Dr. Rajaee says.
Through a series of bending and stretching the knees, a doctor can figure out if a child has hip dysplasia through abnormal movements or "clicking" sounds in the hips, per Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Hip Subluxation Treatment
There are a few different treatment options for hip subluxation in adults, Dr. Rajaee says. Treatment will depend on the severity of your subluxation. These can include:
1. Hip Stability Exercises
For mild cases of hip subluxation, exercises that target the hip joints can help work the hip back into its socket and increase hip mobility.
"There are certain hip preservation procedures that can be done on younger adults without much wear and tear on their joints, which will deepen their socket and give them more hip stability," Dr. Rajaee says.
These hip stability exercises include the following, per Dr. Rajaee:
Try adding these exercises to your workout routine three to five times a week to help strengthen and stabilize your hips.
If the pain from your subluxation is keeping you from working out, ask your doctor about stretches you can do while your hip heals.
2. Hip Reduction
Moderate to extreme cases of hip subluxation will usually require professional help, (i.e., when you have noticeable hip pain or you're no longer supporting your weight).
Your doctor can treat your subluxation with a hip reduction — basically manually moving the joint back into place, per the Cleveland Clinic. This should only be done by a trained professional.
You will likely be given anesthesia or a sedative to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
If the hip subluxation is severe enough, you may need surgery.
"In middle-aged adults with some wear and tear of their hip cartilage, hip subluxation is most reliably fixed through a surgery called total hip arthroplasty (replacement)," Dr. Rajaee says.
"Fortunately, through advanced technology and muscle-sparing surgical techniques, patients do exceptionally well with these modern-day hip replacements," he adds.
What's the Recovery Time for Hip Subluxation?
Recovery time depends on the type of treatment you opt for, Dr. Rajaee says: "If surgery is required, recovery time is variable and depends on the type of procedure you got."
Hip reductions take two to three months to fully heal, while a hip replacement needs up to eight weeks of healing time, plus rehabilitation.
How to Prevent Hip Subluxation
Hip subluxation is usually unexpected, especially if it's caused by an accident. But there are some things you can do to prevent it from happening. These include the following, per Dr. Rajaee:
- General safety: Practice daily safety precautions like wearing a seatbelt in the car and wearing safety gear when participating in contact sports.
- Strength and conditioning: Incorporate hip-strengthening exercises to prevent hip subluxation from happening again, and consider going to physical therapy for extra help.
- Avoiding hip-dominant movements: If you're prone to hip instability, avoid activities and movement that could cause the hip to pop in and out of place (i.e., high-impact sports like running, soccer, football or basketball). "This precaution helps prevent further damage to the hip cartilage and blood supply," Dr. Rajaee says.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you have hip subluxation (even a mild case), the sooner you call your doctor, the better.
"Early recognition and diagnosis of hip dysplasia and subluxation are of the utmost importance," Dr. Rajaee says.
"You should talk to your doctor at the earliest moment you have concerns about hip subluxation. Often, the earliest symptom is hip pain rather than full-on subluxation," he adds.
Your doctor can help you figure out the type of treatment you need.
- Ehlers Danlos Society: Dislocation/Subluxation Management
- Healio Orthopedics: Treatment of Hip Subluxation in Skeletally Mature Patients With Cerebral Palsey
- Aurora Health Care: Hip Dislocation and Instability
- ADA: Subluxation and Dislocation of the Hip
- Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics: Physical Therapy for Hip Dislocation
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Hip Dislocation
- Cleveland Clinic: " Hip Dysplasia"
- Nationwide Children's: "Hip Dysplasia"
- The Cleveland Clinic: "Dislocated Hip"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.