Slipped Femoral Epiphysis

Displacement of the head of the femur (thighbone) at the hip joint

  • Most common in girls aged 11–13 and boys aged 14–16
  • More common in boys
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Being overweight increases the risk

In children, the epiphysis (the area at the end of a long bone) is separated from the main shaft of the bone by a soft, flexible layer of cartilage where new bone is formed. In the condition known as slipped femoral epiphysis, the epiphysis at the head of the femur (thighbone) becomes displaced. This displacement can happen suddenly as a result of an injury that damages the soft cartilage, or gradually for reasons that are unknown. In 20–40 per cent of cases, both hips are affected but usually at different times. Slipped femoral epiphysis occurs in children growing rapidly at puberty. The disorder affects 30–60 in 100,000 children in the UK each year, and overweight children are particularly at risk. Slipped femoral epiphysis can run in families, suggesting a genetic factor.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may appear suddenly but usually develop over several weeks and may include the following:

  • Pain in the hip, knee, or thigh.

  • Limping with an out-turned foot.

  • Restricted hip movement.

  • Reluctance and eventually inability to bear weight on the affected leg.

If your child has any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor within 24 hours.

What might be done?

If your doctor suspects that the child has slipped femoral epiphysis, he or she will arrange for X-rays of the affected hip. If there is displacement, your child will need surgery to fix the epiphysis in place and, possibly, to strengthen the other hip joint to prevent displacement occurring in both hips. If treated promptly, most children recover completely and the condition is unlikely to recur. Rarely, osteoarthritis develops later in life.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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