Anterior Hip Dislocation: Precautions & Nerve injury

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Nerve injury is a common complication of hip dislocation. Read this lesson to learn more about the signs and symptoms of nerve injury related to anterior hip dislocation and the recovery process.

Out of Place

George is an elderly gentleman out for his daily walk. Ever since his retirement last year, he has found new activities like walking to stay fit and keep busy. He slips on his special shoes and heads out to the path by his house.

Despite taking extra time to ensure his footing, he trips on the top step right outside of his house and falls off his porch. With much difficulty, he is able to make it inside his house and calls a friend to take him to the doctor's office. As soon as he makes it to the office, the doctor suspects a dislocated hip as the injury he suffered from his fall. This means that the head of the long leg bone, also known as the femur, has been pushed outside of its normal position, causing pain and difficulty walking.

What is an Anterior Hip Dislocation?

A dislocated hip is pictured on an X-ray.
A dislocated hip is pictured on an X-ray.

George's doctor further suspects an anterior hip dislocation, meaning that the femur head has been pushed anteriorly towards the front aspect of the body. Anterior hip dislocations present with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Hip abduction, or the movement of the leg away from the center of the body
  • External rotation causing the knee, foot, and toes of the affected leg to point outward and away from the body
  • Difficulty walking and flexing at the hip
  • Pain or numbness and tingling

Potential for Nerve Injury

George is sent for diagnostic tests like an X-ray and CT scan (computerized axial tomography scan) to determine the extent of the injury. An X-ray is performed to visualize the bone structures within the body, but a CT scan may also be done to spot any muscular or nerve injury. While the tests did not show any fractures or broken pieces of bone, the doctor is still concerned about nerve damage. Due to the nature of dislocation, surrounding tissue and nerves may be damaged.

While nerve damage is more likely to occur in posterior dislocations when the bone is pushed backwards out of the hip socket, it can also be a complication of anterior dislocations. George's doctor assesses him for signs and symptoms of possible nerve damage and looks for numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in the injured leg and foot.

Precautions for Anterior Hip Dislocation

The dislocation is reduced, or pushed back into place manually. Even with the hip bone in its normal position, George feels slight tingling in his toes, which indicates mild nerve damage. His doctor is concerned about this finding because it may impair his ability to walk safely and decrease his sensation in the foot, making him prone to injury. To increase George's chances of a full recovery after the nerve damage, the doctor suggests the following:

  • Limit mobility: Giving the hip and surrounding nerves and tissue time to rest can promote healing.
  • Physical therapy: Range-of-motion exercises can encourage safe movement and flexibility.
  • Medical devices: Devices like walkers or crutches may be recommended during the recovery phase, which typically lasts 8 to 12 weeks after the initial injury.

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