Pavlik Harness Treatment for Children
What is Pavlik harness treatment for children?
The Pavlik harness is a soft splint. It is most often used for treating infants with
developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). It helps keep the infant's hips and knees
bent and the thighs spread apart. It can also help promote healing in babies with
broken thighbones (femurs).
DDH occurs when the hip joint doesn't form normally. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket
joint. The socket is a cup-shaped structure in the pelvis called the acetabulum. The
ball, or head, is the rounded upper end of the femur. In DDH, the cup-shaped cavity
of the acetabulum is more shallow than normal. As a result, the head of the femur
does not fit into it well. The femoral head may slide partly out of the socket (sublux).
In severe DDH, the head of the femur can slide completely out of the socket (dislocate).
It may stay dislocated.
Strong fibrous tissues called ligaments normally help hold the femoral head in the
acetabulum. In DDH, the ligaments may become stretched and loose.
By holding your baby's legs out and bent, the Pavlik harness helps keep the femoral
heads in their sockets. It allows the ligaments to tighten. It encourages normal development
of the acetabulum.
Why might my child need a Pavlik harness treatment?
It's normal for a baby's hips to be a bit loose or lax. But this often resolves on
its own. Dysplasia is particularly common in babies who were born feet or bottom first
(breech). If their hips are too loose, they can sublux or dislocate easily. They may
If your healthcare provider has concerns about possible DDH, they may advise that
your baby be evaluated by a bone and joint specialist (orthopedist). Sometimes the
evaluation can include an ultrasound of the baby's hips. If your baby has DDH, the
orthopedist will likely advise a device such as a Pavlik harness to encourage your
baby's hips to develop normally.
Girls and breech babies have the highest risk for DDH. It also runs in some families.
It is more common in first-born babies.
Healthcare providers sometimes use a Pavlik harness for femur fractures in infants
younger than 6 months. The harness helps hold the baby's leg still so that the bone
What are the risks of Pavlik harness treatment for a child?
Pavlik harness treatment is often successful in treating DDH. But sometimes complications
can occur. They may include:
Skin breakdown (dermatitis), especially in the groin, behind the knee, on the shoulder,
or on the leg
The treatment doesn't work
Nerve damage in the leg or shoulder
Bone breakdown because of decreased blood supply (avascular necrosis)
Flattening of the back of the femoral head
Downward dislocation of the hip
Subluxation of the knee
The most common problem is skin problems. You can reduce the risk for these skin problems
by keeping all appointments and having the straps of the harness adjusted by the orthopedist
as needed. Only the orthopedist should adjust the straps. You should keep your baby’s
skin clean and dry. Don’t use lotions, ointments, or powders under the harness. If
nerve problems develop, they typically go away on their own. If the Pavlik harness
is not successful, your child may need a rigid brace instead.
How do I help my child get ready for Pavlik harness treatment?
You should not need to do much to get ready for your child's Pavlik harness treatment.
Your baby may need to wear the harness for several months. During this time, it will
be important to keep your baby's skin clean and dry. That will include changing diapers
often. Think about stocking up on leak-proof diapers. Also ask what type of clothes
to bring when you take your baby in for the first fitting. Your baby will need regular
follow-up visits for harness adjustments and monitoring as they continue to grow.
What happens during Pavlik harness treatment for a child?
The Pavlik harness is a soft splint with a number of straps that fasten. It consists
of a chest strap and leg straps. The chest strap goes across the baby's back and reaches
around to close in the front. The leg straps attach to the front of the body strap,
loop under each foot, cross over in the back, and attach to the top of the body strap.
Each leg strap has 2 more straps that wrap around the lower leg. The harness helps
support the baby's legs in a bent, outward-rotated position. It prevents the baby
from straightening their legs. It makes it hard for the baby to bring their legs together.
At first you should keep your baby in the harness all the time. You will learn how
to put on your baby's clothes without taking off the harness. You will also learn
how to change your baby's diaper in the harness. You may need to give your baby sponge
baths with the harness on instead of full baths with the harness off for a short time.
Make sure to dry your baby well after bathing and after diaper changes.
The harness is adjustable, so it can change as your baby grows. You will need to visit
your baby's orthopedist regularly for adjustments. It is very important to have your
baby's legs positioned correctly. Only allow the healthcare provider to make the adjustments.
Don't try to adjust the harness yourself.
Your baby will also need regular ultrasounds to follow development of the hip joint.
If the harness doesn't seem to be working within about 3 weeks, your baby's orthopedist
may advise using a cast or having surgery instead.
The orthopedist will tell you when you can take your baby out of the harness. After
about 6 weeks, you will be able to take your baby out of the harness during the day.
The baby will need to keep wearing the harness at night for about 6 more weeks.
What happens after Pavlik harness treatment for a child?
Most children have normal hip development after Pavlik harness treatment. It is important
to continue follow-up as advised by your child's orthopedist. Follow any instructions
your child's orthopedist gives you. If your child has problems walking or seems to
be in pain, they may need more treatment. Your child may need follow-up exams and
imaging tests such as ultrasound or X-ray. Talk with your child's orthopedist about
other signs to watch for. Ask when you should bring your child in for evaluation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure for your child make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason your child is having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
When and where your child is to have the test or procedure
Who will do the procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if your child did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or your child has problems
How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure