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.
Up to 40% of SCFE cases affect both hips, and boys are affected more often than girls. It
can result from trauma (acute slip) or happen 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 three degrees of severity:
Mild. Approximately one-third or less of the femoral head slips off of the thigh bone (See
Moderate. Approximately one-third to one-half of the femoral head slips off of the thigh bone
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
Risk factors may include:
Who is affected by slipped capital femoral epiphysis?
SCFE is an unusual condition that is more likely to happen in boys than girls. Children
ages 10 to 16 years are most at risk.
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
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
The symptoms of SCFE may resemble other conditions or medical problems of the hip.
Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is slipped capital femoral epiphysis diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, 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. This is to prevent
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 discussed with you by your child's healthcare
provider based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
The extent of the condition
Your child's tolerance for specific medicines, 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 or screw 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.