Causes of a Dislocated Hip Injury and Recovery

A dislocated hip is an uncommon injury. It is most often the result of severe trauma, including motor vehicle collisions, falls from a height, and sometimes major sports injuries.

What to know about hip dislocation

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

A dislocated hip can also occur as a complication of hip replacement surgery. Because an artificial hip is different from a normal hip joint, dislocation after joint replacement is a possible risk of surgery.

This article looks at the causes of a dislocated hip and some of the treatment options for this condition.

A 2014 study found that around 2% of people who undergo total hip replacement will experience a hip dislocation within a year. Fortunately, newer prosthetics and surgical techniques are making this far less common.

Hip Anatomy and Alignment

Your hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint called the femoroacetabular joint. The socket of your hip joint is a deep cup of bone in your pelvis called the acetabulum. The ball is the top of your thigh bone, also called the femur.

Hip dislocations are unusual because the ball is held deeply within your hip socket. By contrast, the ball in your shoulder joint sits in a shallow socket. This is one reason why shoulder dislocations are very common, while hip dislocations are less common.

The bony anatomy of your hip creates a stable joint. Your body also has strong ligaments, many muscles, and tendons that contribute to the stability of the hip joint. For a hip dislocation to occur, significant force must be applied to the joint.

Some people feel a snapping sensation of the hip. This isn't usually hip dislocation. Instead, the sensation indicates a different problem called snapping hip syndrome.

Posterior Hip Dislocation

Up to 90% of all hip dislocations are posterior. In this type of injury, the femur is pushed backward out of the socket. Posterior dislocations sometimes result in injuries to the sciatic nerve. 

Anterior Hip Dislocation

Anterior dislocations are much less common. In this type of injury, the femur is pushed forward out of the socket. 

Dislocated Hip Symptoms

When you have a dislocated hip, your symptoms will include:

Your leg will be in an abnormal position as a result of the dislocation. With a posterior dislocation, your knee and foot will be rotated towards your body. With an anterior dislocation, your knee and foot will be rotated away from your body.

Causes of Hip Dislocation

A hip dislocation causes damage to the structures that hold the ball in the socket. This can include:

  • Fractures of the bone surrounding the hip
  • Tears in the labrum and ligaments of the hip
  • Cartilage damage to the joint

Injury to the vessels that supply blood to the bone can later lead to a condition called avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis of the hip.

A hip dislocation increases the risk of developing arthritis of the joint over the months and years that follow the injury. It can also raise the risk of needing a hip replacement later in life. The extent of cartilage damage will ultimately determine the likelihood of developing future problems.

Developmental Dislocation of the Hip (DDH)

Some children are born with a condition called Developmental Dislocation of the Hip (DDH). Children with DDH have hip joints that did not form normally during development. This causes a loose fit of the ball in the socket.

In some cases of DDH, the hip joint is completely dislocated. In others, it's prone to becoming dislocated. In milder cases, the joint is loose but not prone to dislocation.

Treatment Options

The most important way a dislocated hip is treated is with a joint reduction. This is a procedure that positions the ball back into the socket. It is usually done under general anesthesia when you are in a sleep-like state.

While you may be able to reposition your own shoulder dislocation, this is not usually possible with a hip dislocation. Repositioning a hip dislocation usually requires significant force. In some cases, surgery is necessary to return the joint to its normal position.

A hip dislocation is considered an emergency. Reduction should be performed within six hours of the dislocation to prevent permanent complications and the need for invasive treatment.

Once the ball is back in the socket, your healthcare provider will look for injuries to the bone, cartilage, and ligaments. Depending on what your healthcare provider finds, further treatment may be necessary.

Broken bones, for example, may need to be repaired in order to keep the ball within the socket. Damaged cartilage may have to be removed from the joint.

Surgery

Hip arthroscopy can minimize the invasiveness of certain procedures that are used to treat this type of injury. During this procedure, a surgeon inserts a tiny camera into your hip joint. The camera helps the surgeon make surgical repairs using instruments inserted through another small incision.

It is common to develop early arthritis of the hip after this type of trauma. This is why many people who have a hip dislocation ultimately need hip replacement surgery.

Hip replacement surgery replaces the ball and socket of the damaged hip joint. This surgery may be performed for many reasons, including trauma or arthritis.

Hip replacement is among the most common and most successful orthopedic surgeries. Still, it is a major surgical procedure and is not without risk. Some possible complications include:

  • Infection
  • Aseptic loosening (the loosening of the joint without infection)
  • Hip dislocation

A 2014 study concluded that as many as 17.7% of total hip replacements can sustain dislocations afterward. Of those who undergo repeat hip replacement surgery, 28% can experience a dislocation afterward.

Despite the statistics, most people who undergo hip replacement surgery are able to resume a normal, active lifestyle without significant hip discomfort.

Hip Dislocation Recovery

Early into your recovery, you will need to walk with the help of crutches or other devices. Physical therapy can help improve your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around your hip. 

Your recovery time will depend on if you had other injuries such as fractures or tears. If your hip joint was reduced and there were no other injuries, it may take 6 to 10 weeks to recover to the point where you can put weight on your leg. It may be between 2 and 3 months before you are fully recovered. If you had any additional injuries, your recovery may take longer. 

Recovering from a hip dislocation is a long process. It is important to keep weight off your leg until your surgeon or physical therapist says you are ready. Taking it slow will help ensure proper healing and recovery.

Hip Subluxation

A related injury is called a hip subluxation. This is sometimes also called a partial dislocation. In the case of the hip joint, it means the ball started to come out of the socket but did not come fully out or dislocate.

People with a hip subluxation may have many of the same complications as those with a hip dislocation. Over time, these individuals are just as liable to develop hip labral tears, osteonecrosis, and hip arthritis.

Summary

A hip dislocation can happen as a result of trauma or following hip replacement surgery. Other injuries like ligament tears, bone fractures, and cartilage damage can occur along with the dislocation.

Most hip dislocations are treated with joint reduction. This is a procedure that puts the ball back into the socket. It is usually done under general anesthesia.

Recovering from a hip dislocation takes time. It may be a few months before you are fully recovered. Physical therapy can help you regain motion and strength in your hip.

A Word From Verywell

A hip dislocation or subluxation is a potentially devastating injury. It can lead to both short-term and long-term problems with the hip joint. People who sustain a hip dislocation typically require general anesthesia and sometimes surgery in order for the hip joint to be put back in place.

After a hip dislocation, it is important to ensure the joint is stable and there are no other injuries to the surrounding bone. If there are, surgical intervention may be necessary.

People who have had a dislocated hip are at high risk for developing complications like osteonecrosis and arthritis of the hip joint. Ultimately, hip replacement may become necessary if there was long-term damage to the hip joint.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When can you walk after dislocating your hip?

    A hip dislocation is a significant injury. Recovery takes time. You may be able to begin walking again 4 to 8 weeks after your injury. You will probably not be fully recovered, however, for 2 to 3 months.

  • What does a dislocated hip feel like?

    A hip dislocation is a very painful injury. If your hip is dislocated, you will be unable to walk or move your leg. If you have any nerve damage associated with your injury, your hip or foot may feel numb.

  • Can you pop an unaligned hip back into place at home?

    No. A dislocated hip needs to be reduced by a medical professional. Because this requires a lot of force, it will usually need to be done under general anesthesia. Some dislocated hips may even need surgical correction.

  • What are good sleeping positions for a dislocated hip?

    Generally speaking, the best position to sleep in after a hip dislocation injury is on your back. Do not lay on the injured side of your hip. Your healthcare provider may recommend putting a pillow between your knees to help keep your legs in a comfortable position.

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8 Sources
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