What's The Deal With This "Silent Condition"?

Hip dysplasia in newborns and babies is often called the silent condition — but why?

Doctor giving baby an exam

Photo credit: Sigrid Gombert/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

What is infant hip dysplasia?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hip dysplasia is a partial or full dislocation of the hips. The condition is considered to be developmental because in addition to newborns, it can occur in babies later in infancy as well as in childhood. It is often referred to as DDH (developmental dysplasia of the hips) for this reason. Doctors generally screen newborns for the condition at birth as well as at well-baby checkups throughout infancy.

Why does it occur?

The cause of the condition is not entirely known, but the International Hip Dysplasia Institute has found that genetics plays a role. For example, if a child has DDH, the risk of another child having it is 6 percent. However, if a parent and a child have it, the risk of another child having it jumps to 36 percent. Another theory of the cause is based on the baby's position in the womb. When a baby is in the breech position, this can create pressure on both hips. Babies in the normal womb position, head down, often have more stress on just the left hip, which is why babies in that position tend to have DDH more often on only the left side. Because infants hip joints are so soft, it is also easier for them to become misaligned.

What are the symptoms of DDH?

It is sometimes referred to as the "silent condition" because its symptoms are not always easily detected until a baby begins to walk, or even later into adolescence and young adulthood, with symptoms then being pain, limping or an exaggerated curve of the lower back called swayback. In infancy, it can sometimes be detected by an asymmetrical crack in the baby's bottom, a click in the hip area when Baby moves a certain way or limited range of motion (such as not being able to open the legs wide when getting a diaper change). An X-ray can ultimately determine whether or not Baby's hip alignment is normal.

Always check with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby's development. It is important to notify your doctor of any issues as soon as they arise, as early detection is generally best.

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