Background: Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) describes the abnormal development of a hip in childhood, ranging from complete dislocation of the hip joint to subtle immaturity of a hip that is enlocated and stable within the socket. DDH occurs in around 10 per 1000 live births, though only one per 1000 are completely dislocated. There is variation in treatment pathways for DDH, which differs between hospitals and even between clinicians within the same hospital. The variation is related to the severity of dysplasia that is believed to require treatment, and the techniques used to treat dysplasia.
Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of splinting and the optimal treatment strategy for the non-operative management of DDH in babies under six months of age.
Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, seven other electronic databases, and two trials registers up to November 2021. We also checked reference lists, contacted study authors, and handsearched relevant meetings abstracts.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), including quasi-RCTs, as well as non-RCTs and cohort studies conducted after 1980 were included. Participants were babies with all severities of DDH who were under six months of age. Interventions included dynamic splints, static splints or double nappies (diapers), compared to no splinting or delayed splinting.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected studies, extracted data and performed risk of bias and GRADE assessments. The primary outcomes were: measurement of acetabular index at years one, two and five, as determined by radiographs (angle): the need for operative intervention to achieve reduction and to address dysplasia; and complications. We also investigated other outcomes highlighted by parents as important, including the bond between parent and child and the ability of mothers to breastfeed.
Main results: We included six RCTs or quasi-RCTs (576 babies). These were supported by 16 non-RCTs (8237 babies). Five studies had non-commercial funding, three studies stated 'no funding' and 14 studies did not state funding source. The RCTs were generally at unclear risk of bias, although we judged three RCTs to be at high risk of bias for incomplete outcome data. The non-RCTs were of moderate and critical risk of bias. We did not undertake meta-analysis due to methodological and clinical differences between studies; instead, we have summarised the results narratively. Dynamic splinting versus delayed or no splinting Four RCTs and nine non-RCTs compared immediate dynamic splinting and delayed dynamic splinting or no splinting. Of the RCTs, two considered stable hips and one considered unstable (dislocatable) hips and one jointly considered unstable and stable hips. No studies considered only dislocated hips. Two RCTs (265 babies, very low-certainty evidence) reported acetabular index at one year amongst stable or dislocatable hips. Both studies found there may be no evidence of a difference in splinting stable hips at first diagnosis compared to a strategy of active surveillance: one reported a mean difference (MD) of 0.10 (95% confidence interval (CI) -0.74 to 0.94), and the other an MD of 0.20 (95% CI -1.65 to 2.05). Two RCTs of stable hips (181 babies, very low-certainty evidence) reported there may be no evidence of a difference between groups for acetabular index at two years: one study reported an MD of -1.90 (95% CI -4.76 to 0.96), and another study reported an MD of -0.10 (95% CI -1.93 to 1.73), but did not take into account hips from the same child. No study reported data at five years. Four RCTs (434 babies, very low-certainty evidence) reported the need for surgical intervention. Three studies reported that no surgical interventions occurred. In the remaining study, two babies in the dynamic splinting group developed instability and were subsequently treated surgically. This study did not explicitly state if this treatment was to achieve concentric reduction or address residual dysplasia. Three RCTs (390 babies, very low-certainty evidence) reported no complications (avascular necrosis and femoral nerve palsy). Dynamic splinting versus static splinting One RCT and five non-RCTs compared dynamic versus static splinting. The RCT (118 hips) reported no occurrences of avascular necrosis (very low-certainty evidence) and did not report radiological outcomes or need for operative intervention. One quasi-RCT compared double nappies versus delayed or no splinting but reported no outcomes of interest. Other comparisons No RCTs compared static splinting versus delayed or no splinting or staged weaning versus immediate removal.
Authors' conclusions: There is a paucity of RCT evidence for splinting for the non-operative management of DDH: we included only six RCTs with 576 babies. Moreover, there was considerable heterogeneity between the studies, precluding meta-analysis. We judged the RCT evidence for all primary outcomes as being of very low certainty, meaning we are very uncertain about the true effects. Results from individual studies provide limited evidence of intervention effects on different severities of DDH. Amongst stable dysplastic hips, there was no evidence to suggest that treatment at any stage expedited the development of the acetabulum. For dislocatable hips, a delay in treatment onset to six weeks does not appear to result in any evidence of a difference in the development of the acetabulum at one year or increased risk of surgery. However, delayed splinting may reduce the number of babies requiring treatment with a harness. No RCTs compared static splinting with delayed or no splinting, staged weaning versus immediate removal or double nappies versus delayed or no splinting. There were few operative interventions or complications amongst the RCTs and the non-randomised studies. There's no apparent signal to indicate a higher frequency of either outcome in either intervention group. Given the frequency of this disease, and the fact that many countries undertake mandatory DDH screening, there is a clear need to develop an evidence-based pathway for treatment. Particular uncertainties requiring future research are the effectiveness of splinting amongst stable dysplastic hips, the optimal timing for the onset of splinting, the optimal type of splint to use and the need for 'weaning of splints'. Only once a robust pathway for treatment is established, can we properly assess the cost-effectiveness of screening interventions for DDH.
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