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Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE)


Frank Pessler

, MD, PhD, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2022
Topic Resources

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis is movement of the femoral neck upward and forward on the femoral epiphysis. Diagnosis is with x-rays of both hips; sometimes other imaging is needed. Treatment is surgical repair.

Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE) usually occurs in early adolescence and preferentially affects boys. Obesity is a significant risk factor. Genetic factors also contribute. SCFE is bilateral in one fifth of patients, and unilateral SCFE becomes bilateral in up to two thirds of patients.

The exact cause of SCFE is unknown but probably relates to weakening of the physis (growth plate), which can result from trauma, hormonal changes, inflammation, or increased shearing forces due to obesity.

Symptoms and Signs of SCFE

Onset is usually insidious, and symptoms of slipped capital femoral epiphysis are associated with stage of slippage.

The first symptom of SCFE may be hip stiffness that abates with rest; it is followed by a limp, then hip pain that radiates down the anteromedial thigh to the knee. Up to 15% of patients present with knee or thigh pain, and the true problem (hip) may be missed until slippage worsens. Early hip examination may detect neither pain nor limitation of movement.

Pearls & Pitfalls

  • Up to 15% of patients with slipped capital femoral epiphysis present with knee or thigh pain, and the true problem (hip) may be missed until slippage worsens.

In more advanced stages, findings may include pain during movement of the affected hip, with limited flexion, abduction, and medial rotation; knee pain without specific knee abnormalities; and a limp or Trendelenburg gait. The affected leg is externally rotated. If blood supply to the area is compromised, avascular necrosis and collapse of the epiphysis may occur.

Diagnosis of SCFE

  • Plain x-rays

  • Sometimes MRI or ultrasonography

Because treatment of advanced slippage is difficult, early diagnosis of slipped capital femoral epiphysis is vital.

Anteroposterior and frog-leg lateral x-rays of both hips are taken. X-rays show widening of the epiphyseal line or apparent posterior and inferior displacement of the femoral head. To help determine displacement, Klein lines are drawn on the x-ray on the superior border of the femoral neck. The femoral head will be below the Klein line on the affected side, whereas a significant portion of the femoral head will be above the Klein line on the unaffected side.

Ultrasonography and MRI are also useful, especially if x-rays are normal.

Treatment of SCFE

  • Surgical repair

SCFE usually progresses; it requires surgery as soon as it is diagnosed.

Surgical treatment consists of screw fixation through the physis.

Patients should not bear weight on the affected leg until SCFE has been ruled out or treated.

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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