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Legg-Calve-Perthes disease

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease occurs when the ball of the thighbone in the hip does not get enough blood, causing the bone to die.

Alternative Names

Coxa plana; Perthes disease

Causes

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease usually occurs in boys 4 through 10 years old. There are many theories about the cause of this disease, but little is actually known.

Without enough blood to the area, the bone dies. The ball of the hip collapses and becomes flat. Usually only one hip is affected, although it can occur on both sides.

The blood supply returns over several months, bringing in new bone cells. The new cells gradually replace the dead bone over 2 to 3 years.

Symptoms

The first symptom is often limping, which is usually painless. Sometimes there may be mild pain that comes and goes.

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

During a physical examination, the health care provider will look for a loss in hip motion and a typical limp. A hip x-ray or pelvis x-ray may show signs of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. An MRI scan may be needed.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to keep the ball of the thigh bone inside the socket. The health care provider may call this containment. The reason for doing this is to make sure the hip continues to have good range of motion.

The treatment plan may involve:

  • A short period of bed rest to help with severe pain
  • Limiting the amount of weight placed on the leg by restricting activities such as running
  • Physical therapy to help keep the leg and hip muscles strong
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, to relieve stiffness in the hip joint
  • Wearing a cast of brace to help with containment
  • Using crutches or a walker

Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. Surgery ranges from lengthening a groin muscle to major hip surgery, called an osteotomy, to reshape the pelvis. The exact type of surgery depends on the severity of the problem and the shape of the ball of the hip joint.

It is important for the child to have regular follow-up with the doctor and an orthopaedic specialist.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outlook depends on the child's age and the severity of the disease.

Children younger than 6 years old who receive treatment are more likely to end up with a normal hip joint. Children older than age 6 are more likely to end up with a deformed hip joint, despite treatment, and may later develop arthritis.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if a child develops any symptoms of this disorder.

References

Canale ST. Osteochondrosis or epiphysitis and other miscellaneous affections. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 32.

Sankar WN, Horn BD, Wells L, Dormans JP. Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 670.3.

Updated: 8/22/2013

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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