Hip Conditions that Cause Children to Limp

Is your child complaining of leg pain? Has your child started to limp? Are they unwilling to put weight through their leg? If you answered yes to any of these it can feel daunting knowing what to do next. Depending on the age of the child it can also sometimes be hard to determine where the pain is, or why the limp has developed. This article discusses some conditions of the hip joint that may be the cause.

In many cases children start limping due to minor injuries that get better quickly. However limping that persists or gets worse over time, whether intermittent or constant, can be due to changes in the developing body.

Children have an immature skeletal system which allows their bones to grow and get longer. However, for this to occur their bones are softer and weaker than those of an adult. This means that at different ages children are vulnerable to certain injuries and conditions that don’t occur in adults. These include growth plate injuries, an increased risk of avulsion fractures (where a fragment of bone tears away from the main part of the bone due to trauma) or changes to the developing hip joint.

Conditions of the hip joint can have a significant impact on a child’s life and how they move around. The hip is a complex joint between the thigh bone (femur) and part of the pelvis (acetabulum). It also has numerous ligaments and muscle attachments which allows the hip to move in several directions.

Common symptoms that indicate a hip problem in children include:

  • Limping.
  • Reduced hip movement.
  • Significant leg length differences.
  • Outward turned leg.
  • Pain in the hip, groin, thigh or knee.

Common conditions of the hip at different ages include:

  • Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH): A condition in infancy where there is instability of the hip joint which can lead to dislocation.
  • Perthes disease: Where the head of the thigh bone is not receiving enough blood supply, causing a change in bone shape.
  • Slipped upper femoral epiphyses (SUFE): A fracture of the growth plate at the top of the thigh bone causing this part of the bone to slip out of position.

Whilst many conditions are harmless, and have no long-term consequences, others can have more serious effects requiring further investigation and specific treatment. If you are concerned a physiotherapist can complete a thorough assessment of your child’s walking and joint movement. From here clinically indicated advice and treatment can be delivered to ensure the best results for your child.

Take Home Messages:

  • It is not normal for a child to start limping.
  • Please seek advice if your child is complaining of leg pain or has started to limp.
  • Whilst many conditions can be managed quickly with no long-term consequence’s, others can have more serious impacts on a child’s life and need to be managed appropriately.

If you notice your child has a limp that doesn’t seem to be getting any better then you should get them assessed as soon as possible. It is best to see a physiotherapist who has experience dealing with paediatric conditions, so when you make your appointment please ensure the admin staff are aware of the age of your child and the problem they are experiencing. This way they can book you with one of our physiotherapists who have experience in this area.

To make a booking at any of our clinics please call 6424 7511, or you can book online here.



Royal Children’s Hospital. (n.d). Anatomic Differences: Child vs Adult. https://www.rch.org.au/fracture-education/anatomy/Anatomic_differences_child_vs_adult/

Royal Children’s Hospital. (2018). Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Developmental_dysplasia_of_the_hip_DDH/

Sydney Children’s Hospital. (2017). Perthes Disease. https://www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/files/factsheets/perthes_disease-en.pdf

Royal Children’s Hospital. (2018). Slipped Upper Femoral Epiphysis. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Slipped_upper_femoral_epiphysis_SUFE/

Royal Children’s Hospital. (2012). The Limping or Non-Weight Bearing Child. https://www.rch.org.au/clinicalguide/guideline_index/Child_with_limp/

About the Author:

Jacci completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at Charles Sturt University’s Albury campus in 2018, and started working at PhysioTas in early 2019.

Her clinical areas of interest include: the ankle, knee, shoulder, post operative clients, and paediatrics.

Outside of Physiotherapy Jacci enjoys water sports, bush walking, snowboarding and playing touch football.