Barlow Test

Discover the Barlow Test for early detection of hip dysplasia in infants, with detailed explanations on procedures, benefits, and how to use our comprehensive template.

By Nate Lacson on May 15, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Hip dislocation

Hip dislocation, or hip dysplasia, involves the dislocation of the femoral head from the hip socket (acetabulum). This condition can occur due to developmental issues (congenital hip dysplasia) or from physical trauma, which is more common in adults but rare in infants.

In newborns and young children, hip dislocation is often linked to developmental dysplasia of the hip (developmental hip dysplasia or DDH), where the hip joint has not formed properly. Risk factors for DDH include a family history of the disorder, conditions in utero such as limited space or excessive fluid, and environmental factors like swaddling methods that extend the legs. These factors can prevent the femoral head from securely fitting into the shallow socket, leading to instability or dislocation.

Symptoms of hip dislocation

In adults, hip dislocation symptoms include severe hip or groin pain, inability to move the leg, and the leg on the affected side appearing shorter. For babies, symptoms are more subtle but can be observed as:

  • Asymmetrical leg lengths
  • Restricted range of motion on one side
  • Uneven thigh or buttock folds

Parents and caregivers will have to pay close attention to an infant's movements and physical proportions to notice these. However, these can be easily spotted by pediatricians on routine physical exams.

What complications can hip dislocation lead to?

Untreated hip dislocation can lead to severe complications. Adults may have an unstable hip, nerve damage, decreased blood supply to the femoral head leading to necrosis, and osteoarthritis.

In infants, the complications of untreated hip dislocation can be particularly impactful on development, such as delayed or abnormal walking development. It will lead to lifelong differences in leg length and a heightened risk of developing early-onset hip arthritis. This is why early detection and treatment of hip dislocation are crucial to prevent these complications, particularly in infants, especially since early intervention can promote normal development and prevent long-term disability.

Printable Barlow Test

Download this Barlow Test to assess hip joint instability and aid in the diagnosis of developmental dysplasia of the hip for healthcare professionals in pediatric orthopedics.

What is the Barlow Test?

The Barlow Test is a clinical maneuver used primarily to screen for Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) in infants. This test checks for hip instability by attempting to dislocate the hip under gentle pressure. The Barlow Test is named after Dr. Thomas Barlow, a British physician who developed the technique. It is designed to identify potential dislocations that are not apparent at rest but can be provoked by specific movements.

The Barlow Test is typically performed alongside the Ortolani Test, which tests for the reducibility of an already dislocated hip. Both tests are essential for early detection of DDH, a condition that can lead to significant developmental problems if not addressed promptly.

How is this conducted?

The Barlow Test involves three main steps:

  1. The infant is placed in a supine position with the hips and knees flexed at 90 degrees.
  2. The examiner holds the baby's knees and thighs, applying gentle pressure on the knees while stabilizing the hips.
  3. The hips are gently adducted (moved towards the midline) while applying pressure.

The test aims to provoke a posterior dislocation of the hip joint.

How are the results interpreted?

A positive Barlow Test, indicated by the feeling of the hip slipping out of the socket or a "clunk" as the hip dislocates, suggests hip instability and potential DDH. A negative result, where no movement of the hip occurs, suggests that the hips are stable under the conditions of the test.

Next steps after interpreting results

If the Barlow Test results in a positive sign:

  • Immediate referral to a pediatric orthopedic specialist is recommended.
  • Follow-up with imaging studies such as an ultrasound or X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Early intervention strategies, such as the use of a Pavlik harness, may be initiated to correct the hip alignment.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment following a positive Barlow Test can significantly improve outcomes, reducing the risk of complications as the child grows and promoting stable hips.

By understanding how to perform and interpret the Barlow Test, healthcare professionals can play a crucial role in the early detection and management of hip dysplasia in infants. Our template can help you do exactly that. Let's talk about it next.

How to use our Barlow Test template

Our Barlow Test template is specifically designed to assist healthcare professionals in the methodical documentation of the Barlow Test. The template features the steps for conducting the test and a section for recording the test findings, such as observing a hip dislocation (positive Barlow sign) or not (negative Barlow sign). Additional notes and healthcare professional information sections allow for thorough documentation and follow-up plans.

Here's how to obtain it if you want to incorporate it into your practice:

Step 1: Access this template

The first step for healthcare professionals is to access the template. It is available digitally through our platform, making it easily accessible for immediate use in clinical settings. The template can also be printed for use in environments where digital devices may not be practical.

Step 2: Explain the template

Before performing the test, it is crucial for healthcare providers to explain the procedure to the parents or caregivers of the infant. Use the template to go through each section, explaining what information will be recorded and why it is important. This ensures that the caregivers are well-informed about the purpose and nature of the test, which can help in reducing anxiety and gaining their cooperation.

Step 3: Fill out the template during the examination

As the Barlow Test is conducted, fill in the template in real-time. This includes checking off completed steps in the pre-test checklist, documenting any findings during the test such as the presence or absence of a "clunk," and noting any additional observations. This real-time documentation ensures accuracy and provides a detailed record that can be referred to later or shared with specialists.

Step 4: Analyze and discuss the findings

After the test, complete the findings section of the template. This may involve marking whether the test was positive or negative and detailing the next steps, such as referrals to specialists or additional imaging required. This section is crucial for ensuring the follow-up plan is clear and actionable.

Barlow Test example (sample)

To demonstrate the practical application of our Barlow Test template, Carepatron created a sample document filled with information about fictitious patients and healthcare professionals. The completed template with entries can show how it can ensure accurate documentation of the test's findings.

Download our free Barlow Test template example here.

Barlow Test example (sample)

Benefits of conducting this test

Conducting the Barlow Test provides several critical benefits that can significantly impact the early diagnosis and management of hip dysplasia in infants. This early intervention is key to preventing long-term complications and ensuring proper hip development. Here are some of the primary benefits:

  • Early detection of hip instability: The Barlow Test allows for the early identification of a dysplastic hip or hip instability, which is crucial for timely intervention. Detecting hip issues at an early stage can prevent the development of more severe conditions like hip dislocation and dysplasia.
  • Prevention of long-term hip problems: By diagnosing and treating hip instability early, the Barlow Test helps prevent long-term complications such as osteoarthritis, chronic pain, and walking difficulties. Early supervised treatment often involves less invasive methods that can lead to better outcomes.
  • Guidance for further testing and treatment: A positive Barlow sign indicates the need for further diagnostic procedures, such as ultrasound or MRI, and guides the subsequent treatment approach, which may include bracing or surgery.
  • Reassurance for parents: For infants who test negative for hip instability, the Barlow Test provides reassurance to parents about the healthy development of their child’s hips, alleviating concerns about potential hip problems.
  • Cost-effective: Early detection and treatment facilitated by the Barlow Test can reduce the need for more complex and expensive treatments later on, making it a cost-effective approach for managing hip health in infants.

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How do you check for DDH?
How do you check for DDH?

Commonly asked questions

How do you check for DDH?

Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) is primarily checked using physical examinations like the Barlow and Ortolani tests in newborns, supplemented by imaging techniques such as ultrasounds or X-rays for a definitive diagnosis.

What is the difference between Barlow and Ortolani?

The Barlow Test checks if the hip can be dislocated, indicating instability, while the Ortolani Test checks if a dislocated hip can be relocated back into the socket, confirming dislocation.

What does a positive Barlow mean?

A positive Barlow sign indicates that the hip can be dislocated from its socket, suggesting hip instability or looseness that may be due to DDH.

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