Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (Peds)

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) is an unusual disorder of the adolescent hip. It is not rare. For reasons that are not well understood, the ball at the upper end of the femur (thigh bone) slips off in a backward direction. This is due to weakness of the growth plate. Most often, it develops during periods of accelerated growth, shortly after the onset of puberty.

The condition is diagnosed based on a careful history, physical examination, observation of the gait/walking pattern, and X-rays of the hip. The X-rays help confirm the diagnosis by demonstrating that the upper end of the thigh bone does not line up with the portion called the femoral neck.

Risk Factors

The cause of SCFE is unknown. It occurs two to three times more often in males than females. A large number of patients are overweight for their height. In most cases, slipping of the epiphysis is a slow and gradual process. However, it may occur suddenly and be associated with a minor fall or trauma. Symptomatic SCFE, treated early and well, allows for good long-term hip function.


The typical patient has a history of several weeks or months of hip or knee pain and an intermittent limp. The appearance of the adolescent is characteristic. He or she walks with a limp. In certain severe cases, the adolescent will be unable to bear any weight on the affected leg. The affected leg is usually turned outward in comparison to the normal leg. The affected leg may also appear to be shorter.


The physical examination will show that the hip does not have full and normal range of motion. There is often a loss of complete hip flexion and ability to fully rotate the hip inward. Because of inflammation in the hip, there is often pain at the extremes of motion and involuntary muscle guarding and spasm.


The goal of treatment, which requires surgery, is to prevent any additional slipping of the femoral head until the growth plate closes. If the head is allowed to slip farther, hip motion could be limited. Premature osteoarthritis could develop. Treatment should be immediate. In most cases, treatment begins within 24 to 48 hours.

Early diagnosis of SCFE provides the best chance to achieve the treatment goal of stabilizing the hip.
A screw is inserted to prevent any further slip of the femoral head through the growth plate.

Fixing the femoral head with pins or screws has been the treatment of choice for decades.
Depending on the severity of he child’s condition, the surgeon will recommend one of three surgical options.

  • Placing a single screw into the thighbone and femoral epiphysis.
  • Reducing the displacement and placing one or two screws into the femoral head.
  • Removing the abnormal growth plate and inserting screws to aid in preventing any further displacement.

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