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Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis

What is slipped capital femoral epiphysis?

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) is a condition of the hip joint that affects children. In SCFE, the head, or "ball," of the thigh bone (referred to as the femoral head) slips off the neck of the thigh bone. An analogy commonly used to describe this condition is that it can be like a scoop of ice cream slipping off the top of a cone. This condition causes the hip joint to become painful and stiff.

Illustration demonstrating slipped capital femoral epiphysis
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Approximately one-half of SCFE cases affect both hips, and boys are affected more often than girls. It can result from trauma (acute slip) or occur over an extended period of time (chronic slip). SCFE develops most often during short periods of accelerated growth following the onset of puberty.

SCFE has 3 degrees of severity:

  • Mild. Approximately one-third of the femoral head slips off of the thigh bone (See A.)

  • Moderate. Approximately one-third to one-half of the femoral head slips off of the thigh bone (See B.)

  • Severe. More than one-half of the femoral head slips off of the thigh bone (See C.)

What causes slipped capital femoral epiphysis?

The cause of SCFE is unknown. Risk factors that increase the likelihood of SCFE include the following:

Risk factors may include:

  • Obesity

  • Medications (such as steroids)

  • Thyroid problems

  • Radiation treatment

  • Bone problems related to kidney disease

Who is affected by slipped capital femoral epiphysis?

SCFE is an unusual condition which is more likely to occur in boys than girls. Children ages 10 to 16 years are most at risk.

SCFE is more prevalent in the northeast region of the United States than in the southwestern states. It is also more prevalent among African-Americans. In many cases, the child is overweight.

What are the symptoms of slipped capital femoral epiphysis?

Symptoms of SCFE typically include complaints of pain in the hip that is aggravated by activity. Sometimes the child will also experience pain in the groin, thigh, or knee area.

In acute slips, the child will complain of immediate pain, limp, or feel like the "leg is giving way."

The child with a chronic slip usually walks with a limp, complains of hip pain, and reports that rest alleviates the pain. The child may also walk with his or her leg turned outward.

The symptoms of SCFE may resemble other conditions or medical problems of the hip. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

How is slipped capital femoral epiphysis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for SCFE may include X-rays, which use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

The ultimate goal in SCFE is to diagnose the condition early in order to prevent the head of the femur from slipping further off of the thigh bone, thus preventing hip deformity. When the diagnosis of SCFE is made, the child is not allowed to bear weight on the hip. Crutches or a wheelchair may be used.

Treatment of slipped capital femoral epiphysis

Specific treatment for SCFE will be determined by your child's doctor based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • The extent of the condition

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment is to prevent the femoral head from further slippage. Treatment usually may include:

  • Surgery (involving the use of a steel pin to hold the femoral head onto the femur to prevent it from slipping further)

  • Physical therapy (following surgery, to help strengthen the hip and leg muscles)

Long-term outlook for a child with slipped capital femoral epiphysis

The more severe the case, the greater the likelihood the child will experience limited hip motion, differences in leg lengths, and further hip problems in adulthood. However, with early detection and proper treatment, a good outcome with few problems is possible.