‘Perthes is a childhood disorder which affects the head of the femur (the ball of the ball and socket joint of the hip). In Perthes disease the blood supply to the growth plate of the bone at the end of the femur (called the epiphysis) becomes inadequate. As a result the bone softens and breaks down (a process called necrosis). Over several months the blood vessels regrow, and the blood supply returns to the ‘dead’ bone tissue. New bone tissue is then laid down and the femoral head regrows and remodels over several years. This is similar to how bone reforms and remodels after any ‘normal’ fracture or break to a bone, but takes longer,’
As this quote says Perthes is a childhood condition that affects the hip in growth. However, I often come across adults talking in various social media groups as if they still have Perthes and some even swear blind they still do have it. Technically no one can have it as an adult, but you can have the after effects of having had it as a child. The after effects for me where Justas bad as the Perthes itself.
Not everyone who has Perthes will go on to have such bad after effects; some will have very little at all. It is said that the younger someone has Perthes the better the chances of a full recovery with less side effects, particularly those aged under five. I was diagnosed aged seven and my hip never seemed to grow back fully in the right shape or size.
Pain and hip replacement
I almost always had some kind of pain coming from my hip area, be it the hip itself or the weak muscles. The pain did not go away after the Perthes was said to have run its course due to the damaged state the hip was left in. Not all Perthes patients carry on having pain like I did; it depends on how well the hip grows back to its proper shape. In a lot of cases the ball of the hip does not reshape to fit the socket well, which can lead to a faltered ball, creating significant problems later.
It is said that patients who had Perthes are at higher risk than most of having osteoarthritis, one study of sixty people with Perthes put it as high as over fifty pecent and often at a younger age than normal. I was told I was developing the early stages of osteoarthritis in my early twenties. This eventually led to me using crutches on a daily basis as weight bearing on the hip became too painful. Then aged twenty-five I had a total hip replacement.
According to a fairly recent study ‘LCP patients had a significantly higher risk of THR surgery compared to sex- and age-matched control persons’ (https://online.boneandjoint.org.uk/doi/abs/10.1302/0301-620X.92BSUPP_IV.0920594c)
After my hip replacement I had a lot less pain from the hip area, but my muscles were very weak from lack of use over many years. Once I started doing more with the leg the muscles became sore. Pain after Perthes is very common in muscles suddenly being used more than they are used to. I have found physiotherapy very helpful for strengthening my muscles again.
Leg length issues and posture
Leg length discrepancy is common amongst those who had Perthes due to bone growth not being complete or loss of height due to flattening of the head. Also, some surgeries such as femoral varus osteotomy can contribute to leg length discrepancy, making it a now less preferred treatment for some surgeons.
I had a 1.5 cm difference in leg length before my hip replacement which caused me to limp. A long term limp is not good for your posture. I ended up having posture related issues. I had back pain off and on since about the age of eleven, nothing server, but early signs the way I walked was not good. Then in my late teens I started to get neck and shoulder problems which gradually got worse, till one day aged twenty-four I woke up with a frozen shoulder, which took weeks to get back to fully functioning again and still has twinges now and then.
Physiotherapy has helped a lot with my posture issues. Initially several sessions of massage using ultra sound with the physio gave me great relief, followed by doing the exercises she gave me every single day. I still do some of those exercises years later. The exercises prevent my posture issues from getting even worse and help a lot with the pain.
During my hip replacement my surgeon made sure to correct my leg length difference as much as possible, this has almost removed my limp entirely (apart from when my hip muscles are very sore).
Another thing that can be done is to have an orthopaedic lift fitted to your shoes or an insole used for less server discrepancies. An orthopaedic specialist can advise on this.
It is important to make sure any walking aids such as sticks and crutches are the correct height as this can also be a contributing factor for posture issues. I feel that years of using a cane did not help my back, leaning to one side.
Fitness and fatigue
Due to pain when using my hip much before my replacement I had a poor level of fitness. When you struggle to even walk well it can make exercise tricky. Swimming was about the only proper exercise I found that was not too painful. It made recovery from my replacement surgery slower as not only were my leg muscles weak, but I had become used to not walking very far at all. I had to build up my fitness levels again. Physiotherapy, aqua fit classes and walking more helped with this.
Another reason I was so unfit was the fact that I was tired most of the time. Constant pain is exhausting. Pain can affect your sleep, making it hard to get comfortable and fall asleep. I found when very tired my hip hurt more, making it even harder to get to sleep. I was also on some strong pain medication which probably contributed to how tired I was feeling. Fatigue made getting much exercise and doing much at all hard work.
According to my research it does not seem to make much difference if Perthes patients have surgery as a child or not long term. Recent studies are now showing that surgery seems to be a short term solution and that in fact some surgeries such as osteotomies can make later surgeries trickier. In a lot of cases it is hard to know if the hip would have grown back and recovered anyway given time as it sometimes does in those without any surgery.