Physical Therapy for Hip Dysplasia - Nancy Branberg
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Physical Therapy for Hip Dysplasia

It’s possible to go for physical therapy for Hip Dysplasia and get relief from the common aches and pains associated with the condition. Hip Dysplasia affects people of all ages, particularly when it goes undiagnosed for many years. Fortunately it’s treatable and can be managed to help improve your day-to-day life.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

It’s a condition affecting the hip joint, where the ball of the upper thigh bone (femur) doesn’t fit snugly into the socket of the pelvis (acetabulum). This results in a looseness that can cause the hip joint to partially or even completely dislocate, leading to pain and limitations in movement.

physical therapy for hip dysplasia

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The Development of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia can develop at different stages of life. It is most commonly diagnosed in infancy, and is often present at birth and is sometimes referred to as developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).

During adolescence, in some cases, a previously healthy hip joint may not develop properly during the growth spurt of a child. If it goes undiagnosed then that is how it ends up being diagnosed in adults. While it is less frequent, hip dysplasia can manifest in adulthood due to wear and tear, however it is often linked to undiagnosed childhood cases.

Several Factors can Contribute to Hip Dysplasia

Genetics: As you can imagine, a family history of the condition increases the risk. If you are not certain whether you are at risk, then you may want to dive back into your family history to see if any past relatives have had it.

Fetal positioning: Certain breech positions can affect the development of the hip in-utero. You could have perfectly good genes that allow for ideal hip development, but the position of the child is what leads to complications. 

It sometimes happens that a foot gets stuck in the uterine wall and ends up growing that way while the rest of the body develops normally. The shifting weight and the developing leg in the obscure position could lead to a malformed hip or leg bone.

Loose ligaments: Granted that infants are generally a lot more supple when they are younger, but in some babies, the ligaments surrounding the hip joint are looser than usual. This makes the hip joint unstable during development and often leads to hip problems later in life.

A child would need regular physical therapy to help them develop their hip and leg muscles in order to help them walk normally as they get older. 

What are the Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

The symptoms of hip dysplasia can vary depending on age and severity. It’s best to break it down according to age groups as the symptoms can change 

  • Infants: For infants it’s usually uneven leg lengths. You may even hear a clicking sound in the hip during movement. The child will also express discomfort and difficulty while spreading the legs wide.
  • Children and Adolescents: If the child goes undiagnosed into adolescence you will usually see signs of limping, pain in the hip or groin area, and decreased range of motion in the hip.
  • Adults: The most common symptoms of hip dysplasia are hip pain, stiffness, and a limp. Many adults will experience difficulty performing daily activities that require bending or squatting.

A baby wearing a harness that corrects hip dysplasiaTreatment Options for Hip Dysplasia

Early diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment. That’s why having your children checked out to see if they have dysplasia. Gentle harnessing with devices like the Pavlik harness can reposition the hip joint for proper development.

Adolescents would need to go for casting, or surgery might be necessary to realign the bones and promote a stable joint. Fortunately, they are still young enough to be able to adapt to the treatment. Ideally you still want to be able to catch it here before it progresses further into adulthood, when it becomes a bit more difficult to manage or fix.

Adults would require regular physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility around the hip joint. In severe cases, hip replacement surgery may be needed, in which case the hip socket gets a titanium replacement. Even after surgery, you will still need to come for physical therapy to help your hip heal in a healthy way that allows for regular mobility for many more years to come.

Physical Therapy for Hip Dysplasia

Physical therapy can play a crucial role in managing hip dysplasia across all age groups. A personalized physical therapy program aims to address pain, improve hip function, and prevent further complications. Let’s take a closer look at the different approaches used by a physical therapist for hip dysplasia.

The Use of Manual Therapy

Soft tissue mobilization: Techniques like massage and stretching target tight muscles and fascia surrounding the hip joint. This improves flexibility, reduces pain, and promotes better joint movement.

Joint mobilization: Gentle manipulations by a therapist can improve the range of motion in the hip joint and reduce stiffness. There are several different exercises that can be performed on the hip and leg, to help with movement and flexibility.

Therapeutic Exercises Specifically for Hip Recovery

Strengthening exercises: Focus on strengthening the muscles around the hip, particularly the gluteals, hamstrings, and core. Strong muscles support the hip joint, improve stability, and reduce stress on the joint.

Range-of-motion exercises: Gentle stretches and movements that aim to increase the range of motion in the hip joint. This will allow for pain-free movement in daily activities, leaving you free to do more throughout the day.

Balance and gait training: Exercises designed to improve balance and coordination can help prevent falls and promote a more efficient walking pattern. This greatly reduces stress on the hip and also reduces the amount of pain experienced. 

You Could Also Try Other Healing Modalities

Heat and ice therapy: Heat can be applied before exercises to improve circulation and loosen tight muscles, while ice can be used afterward to reduce inflammation and pain. The combination of the two is where the magic happens, and goes a long way to helping with pain in the short term.

Ultrasound: This modality uses sound waves to promote healing and reduce pain in the affected area. Ultrasound essentially improves the fluid flow around the area being treated. That means more blood flow, and improved lymphatic drainage to help the area heal faster.

How Physical Therapy Helps Recovery

A physical therapist has been medically trained to understand how your body develops, and every aspect of how it moves. Physical therapy addresses hip dysplasia in several ways:

Pain Management: A physical therapist can employ manual therapy techniques and specific exercises to help you manage the pain associated with hip dysplasia. 

Improved Mobility: Stretching and joint mobilization exercises increase the range of motion in the hip joint. That means you’ll be a lot more comfortable when completing your daily activities.

Muscle Strengthening: Strengthening exercises enhance the muscles supporting the hip joint. A physical therapist can help show you to manage your form during exercises that will lead to improved stability and reduced stress on the joint.

Functional Improvement: Physical therapy helps patients regain strength and coordination. This allows them to resume daily activities with more ease. You’ll be able to reach for that top shelf again, or bend down to get something from under the kitchen sink.

Preventing Further Complications: A strong and mobile hip joint is less susceptible to further degeneration, promoting long-term hip health. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way to preventing your joints from degrading further.

Physical therapy is a non-invasive and effective approach to managing hip dysplasia. A qualified physical therapist can design a program tailored to your specific needs and age group. By diligently following your physical therapy program, you can experience significant pain relief, improved hip function, and a better quality of life.

If you suspect hip dysplasia in yourself or your child, consulting a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment is vital. Early intervention can significantly improve outcomes and prevent long-term complications.

You are also welcome to try and contact me directly for a free telephone consultation, where you can ask me questions about your hips and then we can see what can be done to help you with it.

Nancy Branberg

Nancy Branberg

Nancy has long had a passion for helping people - especially those who felt they were powerless over their pain. After becoming a mom and having her own “child-birth” traumas to deal with, Nancy became interested in learning about the pelvis - not just the musculo-skeletal system, but the reproductive and digestive system as well. Every day she is amazed by the complexity and the inter-relatedness of all the systems. Nancy is Fall Church’s leading physical therapist who is able to help you overcome these problems without medication or surgery. Nancy Branberg Physical Therapy, LLC empowers women to take control of their pelvic issues so that their energy and attention can shift towards doing all of the things they love to do.
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