Surgical Dislocation of the Hip: An Overview

An interview with HSS surgeon Ernest L. Sink, MD


Although many cases of hip pain in adults can be attributed to osteoarthritis, hip pain in younger patients is often caused by a range of conditions, including deformities that have been present since birth. Many of these deformities can cause hip pain and be a cause of hip arthritis later. When surgical treatment is required, various surgical approaches may be effective. This includes hip arthroscopy – a minimally invasive surgery (through small incisions) that employs miniaturized instruments and a small camera to see the operative area. However, some patients (ages 10 to 45) with more complicated underlying conditions may be candidates for surgical hip dislocation, an open surgery that allows a surgeon to fully view the joint and more easily address complex anatomical issues.

In surgical hip dislocation, the ball or head of the femur is separated out from its normal position of rest in the acetabulum. [Figure 1]

X-rays: PAO treatment of hip dysplasia, before and after.

Figure 1. Anterior-to-posterior (front-to-back) X-ray image of the pelvis showing both hips. The ball of each femur rests in the acetabulum.

In contrast to hip dislocation that occurs as the result of severe trauma or worsening of a congenital deformity in the joint (in which the dislocation is often associated with injury to surrounding muscles and blood vessels), in surgical hip dislocation the surgeon safely spares the surrounding muscles and preserves the blood supply to the hip joint. “Surgical hip dislocation is just one of many approaches we use to address problems in the joint,” explains Ernest L. Sink, MD, Associate Attending Orthopedic Surgeon and Co-Director, Center for Hip Preservation, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). “However, it’s the only approach that gives you a 360° view of the affected area. Because the patient is anesthetized during the procedure, we can also observe the joint through a range of motion, giving us a better understanding of what is happening physically when he or she experiences pain.”

The technique for surgical dislocation of the hip was developed in 2000, under the direction of Reinhold Ganz, MD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Today, Dr. Sink and his colleagues employ Dr. Ganz’s technique to care for many young patients with complex hip conditions. The HSS Center for Hip Preservation is one of a limited number of centers where a high volume of these procedures are performed.

Undergoing Surgical Hip Dislocation

Hip conditions for which surgical dislocation of the hip may be recommended include:

  • Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), in which the femoral head and the acetabulum meet in such a way that range of motion in the joint is restricted; the underlying cause may be excess bone tissue on either the femoral head and neck or the acetabulum, or when the femur and/or acetabulum are positioned at an abnormal angle.
  • Other forms of impingement with complex deformities.
  • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE): a common hip disorder among early teenagers. This occurs when the cartilage growth plate (epiphysis) at the top of the femoral head slips out of place. In a child who has not reached skeletal maturity, the growth plate controls the way the top of the thighbone grows. Most often, SCFE occurs during a period of accelerated growth, shortly after the onset of puberty.
  • Perthes disease, also known as Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, is caused by idiopathic avascular necrosis of the femoral head, a condition in which the femoral head becomes damaged due to lack of blood supply. It is usually diagnosed in children between 4 and 12 years old.
  • Tumors.
  • Traumatic injuries with an osteochondral defect (a damaged area of bone and/or joint surface cartilage).

Surgical dislocation of the hip may also be recommended for individuals in whom a previous hip arthroscopy or other surgery has been unsuccessful.

Preoperative Evaluation

To determine whether a surgical dislocation is appropriate, the surgeon must listen to the patient’s symptoms and then to carefully asses radiographs (X-rays, MRI and CT scan) and perform a thorough physical exam.


During the procedure, to gain access to the hip joint, the surgeon separates and retracts a piece of bone from the greater trochanter (the upper part of the femur), which is the attachment site for important muscles that surround and move the hip. This method is called a greater trochanteric osteotomy. By using this approach, the surgeon can safely dislocate the hip, thereby protecting the blood vessels around the joint and leaving essential circulation and the surrounding muscles intact. The surgeon is then able to fully visualize and correct abnormalities of bone and soft tissues about the hip joint. Before closing the incision, the separated bone fragment is securely held in place with screws to maintain stability during healing. [Figure 2]

Anterior to posterior X-ray view, before and after surgical dislocation of let hip.

Figure 2. Anterior-to-posterior (front-to-back) X-ray images, before and after surgical dislocation of the left hip. X-ray on the right shows screw reattachment of the greater trochanter.

Recovery and Outcome

Patients who undergo surgical hip dislocation at HSS can expect to spend two or three nights in the hospital and to use crutches for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks. Physical therapy begins during hospitalization and includes instruction on maintaining limited, protected weight bearing, restrictions on joint motion during recovery, as well as muscle strengthening exercises. Patients are monitored periodically during the first year following surgery to ensure that healing is progressing normally. For many hip conditions, surgical hip dislocation provides the surgeon with the best opportunity to correct deformity and create a more normal, stable, and pain-free hip.

“Surgical hip dislocation is a technically demanding procedure,” Dr. Sink explains, “but when it is performed carefully, it is extremely safe. Moreover, our ability to perform surgical hip dislocation at HSS and treat the underlying conditions with this approach is enabling us to understand even more about the subtleties of what causes hip pain.” For patients considering the procedure, Dr. Sink adds that it’s always advisable to seek care at a specialized institution, where these surgeries are performed on a regular basis, such as HSS.

Interview summary by Nancy Novick


Headshot of Ernest L. Sink, MD
Ernest L. Sink, MD
Chief, Hip Preservation Service, Hospital for Special Surgery
Associate Attending Orthopedic Surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery

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