Hip Instability

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Dr Kau Chung Yuan (许医生)


MRCS (Ireland)

MMed (Ortho)

FRCSEd (Ortho)


What is Hip Instability?

Hip instability is a condition where the hip joint experiences an abnormal range of motion, potentially leading to dislocation or pain.

This condition arises when the structures that surround and support the hip joint, such as the ligaments, muscles, and the joint capsule, are unable to maintain the femoral head securely within the acetabulum, which is the socket of the hip joint.

Causes of Hip Instability

The development of hip instability can be attributed to a variety of factors. These causes can be broadly categorised into congenital (present at birth), developmental, traumatic, and degenerative.

  • Congenital Causes
    Hip instability is sometimes present from birth. Conditions such as developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), where the hip joint does not develop properly in the womb, lead to instability and an increased risk of dislocation.
  • Developmental Causes
    These relate to abnormal development of the hip joint during growth, including conditions like Perthes disease, which affects the blood supply to the femoral head, leading to its deformation.
  • Traumatic Causes
    Injuries to the hip joint, such as dislocations or fractures, can damage the ligaments, muscles, and other structures that support the hip, causing instability. Common sources of such injuries include high-impact sports or severe accidents.
  • Degenerative Causes
    Conditions like osteoarthritis can lead to the deterioration of the hip joint and its supporting structures. As the cartilage wears down and the joint becomes less stable, the risk of instability increases.
  • Other Factors
    Other contributing factors to hip instability include hypermobility syndromes, where the ligaments are more flexible than usual, and certain types of surgeries that may alter the anatomy or integrity of the hip joint.


The symptoms of hip instability can vary widely depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Commonly reported symptoms include:


This is often the most noticeable symptom, which can range from a dull ache to sharp pain. It may be localised in the hip area or radiate to the groin, thigh, or buttocks.

Feeling of Looseness or Instability

Individuals may experience a sensation that the hip is about to give way, especially when standing, walking, or during certain movements.

Reduced Range of Motion

There may be limitations in moving the hip joint, particularly in certain directions, due to pain or mechanical restrictions.

Limping or Altered Gait

As a result of pain or instability, changes in walking patterns are common, which may manifest as limping or favouring the unaffected hip.

Audible or Sensory Clicks or Pops

Some individuals might notice clicking or popping sounds or sensations in the hip joint during movement.

Swelling or Tenderness

In some cases, especially after acute injury, the hip area may become swollen or tender to the touch.


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Diagnosing hip instability involves a comprehensive approach that includes a medical history review, physical examination, and imaging studies. The process typically includes:

Medical History

This involves discussing symptoms, any previous hip problems or injuries, and activities that may contribute to hip pain or instability.

Physical Examination

A doctor will perform a physical examination to assess hip mobility, strength, and alignment. Special tests may be conducted to evaluate the stability of the hip and to identify any specific areas of pain or discomfort.

Imaging Studies
  • X-rays: These provide images of the bones of the hip joint and can show abnormalities in the alignment or signs of arthritis.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI can provide detailed images of soft tissues around the hip, including ligaments, tendons, and the labrum. It is particularly useful in diagnosing injuries to these structures.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: Sometimes used to provide more detailed bone images or to assess complex deformities.
Diagnostic Injections

In some cases, a doctor may use injections with an anaesthetic in the hip joint. Relief of pain following an injection can help confirm that the hip is the source of symptoms.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

Non-surgical treatment options for hip instability focus on relieving pain, improving joint stability, and maintaining hip function. These treatments are often the first line of management, especially in cases where the instability is mild or moderate. Common non-surgical treatments include:

  • Physical Therapy: A tailored physical therapy program can strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, improve flexibility, and enhance stability. Exercises may focus on the core, hip abductors, and external rotators.
  • Activity Modification: Patients may be advised to modify or avoid activities that exacerbate their symptoms. This includes altering exercise routines or changing daily activities to reduce stress on the hip.
  • Pain Management: This may include using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation reduction. In some cases, other pain relief methods, such as heat or ice therapy, may also be recommended.
  • Bracing or Supportive Devices: In certain cases, a brace or other supportive device may be used to stabilise the hip and limit movements that might increase instability or pain.
  • Injection Therapy: Corticosteroid injections or viscosupplementation (injecting lubricating substances) may be used in some cases to reduce joint inflammation and pain.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Weight management and low-impact exercises can be beneficial in reducing the strain on the hip joint. Dietary changes and supplements may also be recommended to support joint health.

Surgical Treatment Options

Surgical intervention may be considered for hip instability when non-surgical treatments have been ineffective, particularly in cases of severe instability or structural abnormalities. Common surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopy
    This minimally invasive procedure involves making small incisions to insert a camera and surgical tools into the hip joint. It is used to repair or clean out damaged tissues, such as torn labrums or loose cartilage.
  • Osteotomy
    This procedure involves cutting and realigning bones to improve joint stability and function. It is often used in cases of developmental abnormalities.
  • Hip Capsular Repair or Reconstruction
    For patients with laxity or damage to the hip capsule, surgical tightening (capsulorrhaphy) or reconstruction may be necessary to restore stability.
  • Total Hip Replacement
    In cases of severe hip instability combined with significant arthritis or joint damage, a total hip replacement may be performed. This involves replacing the damaged joint with artificial components.
  • Hip Resurfacing
    This is an alternative to total hip replacement for some patients, where the damaged bone and cartilage are resurfaced rather than completely replaced.

Dr. Kau Chung Yuan

MBBS (S’pore)

MRCS (Ireland)

MMed (Ortho)

FRCSEd (Ortho)

Dr Kau (许医生) is a Fellowship trained Orthopaedic Surgeon with a subspecialty interest in Hip and Knee surgery and has been in practice for more than 15 years.

He is experienced in trauma and fracture management, sports injuries, and joint replacement surgery.

  • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, Orthopaedics (FRCS, Edin) 2014
  • Master of Medicine (Orthopaedics), Singapore (MMed) 2013
  • Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (MRCS, Ire) 2009
  • Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS, Singapore) 2004

Prevention Measures

While not all cases of hip instability can be prevented, especially those due to congenital conditions, the following measures can help reduce the risk:

  • Regular Exercise
    Engaging in regular, low-impact exercises can strengthen the muscles around the hip, improving stability and reducing the risk of injuries. Activities like swimming, cycling, and specific strengthening exercises are beneficial.
  • Proper Technique in Sports
    Athletes, particularly those in high-impact sports, should ensure they use proper technique and equipment to minimise the risk of hip injuries.
  • Ergonomic Postures
    Maintaining good posture and ergonomic practices, especially during activities that put strain on the hips, can help prevent undue stress on the hip joint.
  • Weight Management
    Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the strain on the hips, decreasing the risk of developing conditions that lead to instability.
  • Avoiding High-Risk Activities
    Being cautious about activities that pose a high risk of falls or impacts can help in preventing traumatic injuries to the hip.
  • Regular Check-ups
    Regular medical check-ups, particularly for individuals with a history of hip problems or those involved in high-level athletics, can help in early detection and management of potential issues.

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Patient Feedback

Ethan Chan
Dr. Kau is an exemplary doctor who is experienced in his field and is very patient with his patients. He walked me through the details of my knee condition and addressed all my concerns. Thanks to Dr. Kau, I had a better understanding of my ACL and MCL injury and the various treatment options available. His advice and treatment have been very valuable to me.
Ming Lee Chua
Dr Kau was very careful and explained clearly the surgery procedures. After surgery, the care while I was in hospital was closely monitored and he even came during weekends! The hip so far has recovered and healed. His ‘predictions’ of when what can happen are so accurate. Trust him.
Teo Pek Suan Diana
I had a very successful total hip replacement done by Dr Kau 4 years ago. 4 months after the operation I was back walking, cycling and swimming. The beautiful job gave me much confidence Dr Kau is most professional and has such great doctor patient communication.

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    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Can hip instability go away on its own?

    In some mild cases, especially in young children, hip instability can improve as the child grows and the hip joint develops. However, in most cases, especially in adults, hip instability requires medical intervention to prevent the worsening of symptoms and to ensure proper joint function.

    Can exercises prevent hip instability?

    Regular low-impact exercises that strengthen the muscles around the hip can help improve stability and reduce the risk of hip instability. However, exercises alone may not be sufficient to prevent instability in cases of structural abnormalities or significant ligament laxity.

    How long does it take to recover from hip instability surgery?

    The recovery time varies depending on the type of surgery and the individual’s overall health. It can range from a few weeks to several months. A tailored rehabilitation program is crucial for a successful recovery.

    Are there any long-term effects of hip instability?

    If left untreated, hip instability can lead to chronic pain, increased risk of hip dislocation, and the development of osteoarthritis in the hip joint. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to minimise these long-term effects.

    What is the difference between hip instability and hip dysplasia?

    Hip instability refers to a condition where the hip joint is more prone to dislocation or abnormal movement, whereas hip dysplasia is a specific structural deformity of the hip joint. While both conditions can lead to joint instability, hip dysplasia is a structural abnormality, whereas hip instability often results from functional issues in the supporting tissues.