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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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While the majority of cases only affect one hip, approximately 20 to 30 percent of cases affect both hips. SCFE occurs more in the left hip than in the right hip. SCFE can result from trauma, also referred to as an "acute slip," or can occur over a period of weeks to years. This is called a "chronic slip."

SCFE has three degrees of severity:

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:

Who is affected by slipped capital femoral epiphysis?

SCFE occurs in approximately two out of 100,000 children and is more likely to occur in boys than girls. Children ages 10 to 18 years are most at risk.

SCFE is typically seen in children 11 to 16 years of age. Children ages 10 to 18 years are most at risk. When the condition is seen in girls, they are usually between 11 to 13 years of age.

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/her leg turned outward.

The symptoms of SCFE may resemble other conditions or medical problems of the hip. Always consult your child's physician 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:

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 physician based on:

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

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.

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