Femoral Osteotomy 

Updated: Aug 05, 2021
Author: Austin T Fragomen, MD; Chief Editor: William L Jaffe, MD 



Patients with deformity of the proximal femur typically develop arthritis over time because of abnormal joint wear from malalignment. Deformities typically include a varus or valgus neck-shaft angle, rotational malalignments, and leg-length discrepancy in any combination. These deformities can be acquired, as in the case of proximal femur fracture malunions and nonunions, or developmental, as in the cases of fibrous dysplasia, coxa vara, and developmental dysplasia.

Regardless of the etiology, these patients with femoral deformity are at an increased risk for the development of pain and arthritis in the affected hip. Once arthritis has begun, the problem is further aggravated by the mechanical malalignment from the femoral deformity. Standard hip replacement techniques and prostheses are usually unsuitable for deformed proximal femora, thus increasing the complexity of the procedure, surgical risks, and possibly the longevity of the reconstructed joint.

Proximal femoral osteotomy was a technique used in adults in the early part of the 20th century for the treatment of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. Varus- and valgus-producing osteotomies were aimed at maximizing joint congruity and redistributing the weightbearing load across the femoral head to a less affected area. Historically, the best results were obtained in patients with long-standing deformities, including Perthes osteonecrosis, coxa vara,[1] and developmental dysplasia.

Modern periacetabular osteotomies[2] and joint arthroplasty techniques have narrowed the indications for this once common procedure. Proximal femoral osteotomy continues to find application in adults for the treatment of hip fracture nonunions and malunions and in cases of congenital and acquired hip deformities.[3, 4]

The benefits of early proximal femoral osteotomy to correct the deformity are twofold. First, in the deformed hip prior to the onset of arthritic changes, the realignment often reduces symptoms and prevents further joint degeneration. In the deformed hip with arthritic changes, restoration of normal alignment can often decreases pain and improves function. Moreover, if the relief of symptoms is incomplete and the patient later requires hip replacement surgery, then the arthroplasty procedure is simplified by restoration of the anatomy.

In young patients with symptomatic hip disease, total joint arthroplasty has traditionally been a suboptimal solution. Problems with accelerated bearing wear and premature implant loosening leading to early revision surgery are well documented in this patient population. Intertrochanteric osteotomy has some use in providing temporary relief of pain in this challenging group of patients.[5] Whereas newer bearing materials with improved wear properties may improve the longevity of total joints in young patients, data to support this position are yet lacking.


The bases for performing a proximal femoral osteotomy can vary. In the presence of deformity, the goal is to correct the deformity and, in so doing, to realign the hip and lower extremity. This may include frontal, sagittal, and rotational corrections and perhaps even lengthening through the osteotomy.[6] Indications for proximal femoral osteotomy in adults include the following:

  • Nonunion of a femoral neck fracture
  • Nonunion or malunion of an intertrochanteric hip fracture deformity - This includes rotational deformities (eg, severe femoral anteversion, slipped capital femoral epiphysis [SCFE], and developmental dysplasia of the hip); frontal plane (varus/valgus) deformities (eg, congenital coxa vara, varus fracture malunion, and shepherd's crook deformity from fibrous dysplasia); sagittal deformities, including flexion and extension deformity, either bony (eg, fracture malunion) or nonbony (eg, hip flexion contracture of achondroplasia); and significant shortening or bone loss of the distal femur requiring a proximal lengthening
  • Combinations of the above indications, as in intertrochanteric fracture malunion with varus, external rotation, and shortening deformity
  • Simultaneous femoral osteotomy and total hip arthroplasty
  • Hip osteoarthritis or osteonecrosis in the young, active patient

Femoral neck nonunion

In femoral neck nonunion, the fracture fails to heal despite an adequate blood supply. Weightbearing forces across a vertically oriented fracture line produce shear stresses at the fracture site that favor the production of fibrous tissue. Valgus intertrochanteric osteotomy reorients the fracture site into a more horizontal position. Axial loading in this situation encourages osteogenesis and fracture union.[7]  (See the images below.)

This severe vertical fracture line through the fem This severe vertical fracture line through the femoral neck is a high risk for nonunion with simple pinning fixation.
The fracture is stabilized with a screw, and then The fracture is stabilized with a screw, and then a 95° blade is inserted. Proximal femoral osteotomy is created and a wedge removed.
Final image showing a valgus-producing osteotomy w Final image showing a valgus-producing osteotomy with improved orientation of the femoral neck fracture.

Intertrochanteric nonunion or malunion

Intertrochanteric hip fractures typically do not disturb the blood supply to the femoral head and tend to heal predictably. Nonunions of this common fracture pattern are usually the result of a combination of varus malalignment and inadequate stability of fixation. Treatment is aimed at correcting the varus neck-shaft angle to a neutral or slight valgus orientation and improving the stability at the fracture site, often with a fixed-angle device.[5]  (See the images below.)

Painful nonunion of a peritrochanteric fracture in Painful nonunion of a peritrochanteric fracture in varus position with shortening and broken hardware.
Repair of nonunion with a 95° blade plate with res Repair of nonunion with a 95° blade plate with restoration of normal alignment and equalization of limb length.

Intertrochanteric malunion

When the fracture collapses into varus angulation and then goes on to bony union, a malunion results. The hallmark of this malunion is a varus neck-shaft angle with shortening of the ipsilateral femur, shortening of the abductor musculature or lever arm, and often trochanteric-pelvic abutment and a Trendelenburg gait with poor hip motion. This patient is at an increased risk for the development of hip arthritis. Intertrochanteric osteotomy serves to realign the hip joint, restore normal abductor mechanics, and reestablish equal leg lengths.

SCFE malunion

SCFE is a common fracture variant seen in the adolescent population.[8] In many cases, in-situ pinning of the displaced fracture is indicated, because this reduces the risk of osteonecrosis of the femoral head. If a displaced slipped epiphysis heals in situ, a fracture malunion can result. After remodeling, this malunion is characterized by coxa vara, femoral shortening, and retroversion of the femoral neck with a significant loss of hip motion.

A valgus-producing proximal femoral osteotomy can correct the varus and reestablish normal rotation, both of which reorient the femoral head in the acetabulum, offering possible protection from the development of arthritis. This procedure also equalizes limb length and abductor tension, thereby normalizing gait.

Fibrous dysplasia

A shepherd's crook deformity of the proximal femur has long been associated with fibrous dysplasia. Repeated microfractures of the femoral neck lead to progressive displacement and healing of the femur in varus. Significant shortening of the femur, trochanteric-pelvic abutment, and shortening of the abductor lever arm occur concomitantly. Rotational deformity may also be present.[9]

Patients report limb shortening, hip stiffness, and an inability to abduct the lower extremity, which can be particularly troublesome for women of childbearing age. Pain may be present as well. These patients are at risk for progression of the deformity, fracture of the femoral neck, and joint degeneration. Valgus-producing proximal femoral osteotomy serves to prevent progression of the deformity and the development of a fracture, reestablish a more normal femoral head–acetabular relationship, lengthen the extremity, tension the abductors, and greatly improve hip abduction.

Developmental dysplasia of hip

Adults with hip dysplasia often have both acetabular and femoral deformity. The femoral neck assumes a valgus and anteverted orientation, while the acetabulum is shallow with varying degrees of uncovering of the femoral head, ranging from mild to subluxed to a frank dislocation. In select patients, surgery is indicated to improve femoral head coverage or better reduce the hip joint. A varus-producing proximal femoral osteotomy with derotation of the anteverted neck improves femoral head orientation. Often, this is combined with a periacetabular osteotomy to improve superolateral and anterior head coverage.[10, 11, 12]

Osteoarthritis and osteonecrosis

The goal of the femoral osteotomy is to alter the contact point across the articular cartilage during weightbearing. When arthritic change occurs without deformity, then a valgus-extension osteotomy moves the contact point of weightbearing forces to a new location on the femoral head, alleviating the pressure across the degenerated area of articular cartilage. This area of damaged cartilage has been shown to undergo a reparative process through which new collagen is created. (See the images below.)

Osteonecrosis localized to a small area of the wei Osteonecrosis localized to a small area of the weightbearing portion of the femoral head.
Proximal femoral osteotomy was performed and the h Proximal femoral osteotomy was performed and the head was positioned into more valgus. In so doing, the affected portion of the femoral head is rotated away from the weightbearing area. External fixation was selected in this example.
Follow-up radiographs demonstrate a well-healed os Follow-up radiographs demonstrate a well-healed osteotomy with maintenance of the valgus positioning.


Contraindications for femoral osteotomy include the following:

  • The presence of infection may preclude the use of internal fixation; however, external fixation may be a viable option in such cases
  • Limitations of hip motion can make realignment unsuccessful without soft-tissue releases or compensation through the osteotomy
  • Advanced osteoarthritis or osteonecrosis is a relative contraindication
  • Inflammatory arthritis can also be a contraindication

Technical Considerations


Proximal femoral osteotomy is a joint-sparing procedure that relies on maintaining the biologic integrity of the femoral head. Preserving the blood supply to the femoral head is of the utmost importance. In adults, the medial femoral circumflex artery is the predominant nutrient vessel supplying the femoral head. Proximal femoral osteotomy is performed via a lateral approach, reducing the chance of injury to this vessel.

Other relevant anatomy includes knowledge of the normal anatomy of the femur. Normal neck-shaft angle is in the range of 124-136°. The center of the femoral head lies at a similar height as the tip of the greater trochanter. A line connecting these 2 points makes an angle of 90° (range 85-95°) with the mechanical axis of the femur.

For more information about the relevant anatomy, see Osteology (Bone Anatomy) and Hip Joint Anatomy.


When proximal femoral osteotomy is used for the correction of congenital and acquired deformities and repair of hip fracture nonunion, results have been favorable. Hip range of motion, gait, pain, leg-length discrepancy, and patient satisfaction are improved. If arthritis develops, then future joint replacement is often facilitated. Simultaneous femoral osteotomy and total hip arthroplasty is a technically demanding procedure that has yielded acceptable results for complex hip reconstruction with deformity.

With regard to the use of proximal femoral osteotomy in the nondeformed hip with osteoarthritis, long-term follow-up reveals that many patients go on to require total hip arthroplasty. Some authors conclude that a place still exists for osteotomy in the treatment of hip osteoarthritis in younger patients. However, many have reported on the increased difficulty and higher complication rates associated with total hip arthroplasty performed in hips that have undergone previous intertrochanteric osteotomy procedures aimed at alleviating arthritic pain.

Aydin et al studied the long-term clinical and radiographic results of femoral varus derotation osteotomy in a group of patients with the diagnosis of Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease.[13]  A total of 21 hips were evaluated, and the mean duration of postoperative follow-up was 25.1 years. The main determinants of radiographic outcome were (1) age at the time of surgery and (2) preoperative lateral pillar classification, whereas those significantly correlated with progression to degenerative arthritis were (1) preoperative lateral pillar classification and (2) Stulberg group at maturity.


Periprocedural Care

Preprocedural Planning

Planning for a femoral osteotomy should include the following steps[14] :

  • Review all information from the history, physical examination, and imaging studies (see below)
  • Correlate the radiographic measured degree of deformity with the clinical examination findings; optimize the patient's range of motion and function; do not simply treat on the basis of the radiographic findings
  • If using a blade plate, determine the optimal position for the blade in the femoral neck on the basis of radiographic findings
  • Plan the level of osteotomy
  • Consider the best approach with regard to skin condition
  • Have correct instrumentation available to remove old hardware
  • Obtain medical clearance, and optimize the patient's status before surgery
  • Involve the patient and the family in the decision-making process
  • Provide the patient with realistic expectations from the surgical procedure

Adults present with deformity about the hip from any number of etiologies, including hip fracture nonunion or malunion, slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), congenital coxa vara, shepherd's crook deformity from fibrous dysplasia, excessive femoral anteversion, developmental dysplasia of the hip, congenital or acquired femoral shortening, and soft-tissue contractures about the hip.

A thorough examination is crucial before undertaking any osteotomy to correct a deformity; deformities commonly lie in multiple planes. Hip, knee, and ankle are examined with an eye to deformity and joint range of motion. Hip joint contractures may be resolved through the osteotomy. The rotational profile of the lower extremity, including hip internal and external rotation and thigh foot axis, is documented. Limb-length discrepancy is measured with blocks and, later, with radiographs.

Previous incisions, skin quality, and any signs of previous sepsis should be carefully sought.

In determining the appropriateness of a femoral osteotomy, the appropriate tests and imaging techniques should be performed. Obtain a white blood cell count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein level if infection is suspected. If osteonecrosis is present, then an investigation of the etiology may be indicated. Routine preoperative blood work is indicated.

Standing anteroposterior pelvis radiographs may be obtained to measure the neck-shaft angle and assess hip joint integrity. A cross-table view lateral of the involved hip may be warranted to assess sagittal deformity. A standing bipedal 51-in. radiograph, including the top iliac crests down to below the ankle joints, may be done to assess deformity and leg length.

Bone scanning may be done to assess for nonunion or infection. Computed tomography (CT) may be useful in some instances to help confirm the presence of a nonunion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help assess for osteomyelitis and can evaluate the condition of the hip joint. According to American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria, MRI is the most sensitive and specific imaging modality for diagnosing osteonecrosis of the hip.[15]


The following items should be available in the room when a femoral osteotomy is to be performed:

  • Patient's radiographs
  • Goniometer
  • Steinman pins to judge rotation
  • C-arm fluoroscopy
  • Broken hardware removal set

The operating table should be a fracture table or Jackson flat table with a bump under the ipsilateral buttock.

Monitoring & Follow-up

The follow-up to a femoral osteotomy includes the following:

  • Office visit at 2 weeks to remove sutures
  • Regular monthly visits with radiographs until bony union is observed
  • A shoe lift may be indicated for limb-length inequality, or a later limb-lengthening procedure may be planned if indicated


Approach Considerations

For painful hip arthritis, treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and glucosamine/chondroitin. Caution should be exercised in prescribing any medication on a long-term basis. Bisphosphonates may have a role in optimizing patients for surgery who have metabolic bone disease.

Proximal femoral osteotomy is commonly used in the treatment of nonunions of hip fractures. Both femoral neck and intertrochanteric fracture nonunions respond positively to valgus-producing realignment osteotomies. Malunions of hip fractures, including intertrochanteric type and unreduced slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), are other common indications for osteotomy. Infrequently, proximal femoral osteotomy is performed in adults for the treatment of hip arthritis and osteonecrosis.

Alternatives to femoral osteotomy in patients with arthritis include the following[16] :

  • Total hip replacement - The age indication for hip arthroplasty continues to broaden for patients with coxarthritis, in large part because of the good results obtained through use of alternative bearing surfaces; hip arthroplasty has also been successful in the treatment of femoral neck nonunions, developmental dysplasia of the hip, and fibrous dysplasia
  • Resurfacing procedures
  • Distraction arthroplasty hip joint - This has been successful in children with Perthes disease and may have a role in adults

Alternative bearings could reduce the need for proximal femoral osteotomy. As newer prosthetic materials with reduced wear properties prove efficacious in total hip replacement surgery, the indications for arthroplasty may extend to younger and more active patients. Short-term follow-up of ceramic-on-ceramic total hip arthroplasty has demonstrated encouraging results.[17] However, osteotomy will continue to find applications in the correction of deformity in adult patients.[18, 19, 20]

Computer navigation promises to greatly advance the technical accuracy of all osteotomy procedures and will undoubtedly have a profound impact on how proximal femoral osteotomy is performed in the future.[21]

Femoral Osteotomy

Internal fixation

The implant is typically a fixed-angle device (eg, 95° or 130° blade plate), and the procedure is performed through an open approach with an acute correction. Once surgery is performed, no postoperative adjustability is possible. Internal hardware is not ideal in cases of infection. The approach is lateral, centered over the proximal femur and greater trochanter.

If correcting rotation, place a Steinmann pin into the proximal femur posteriorly, at the level of the lesser trochanter. Place a second pin into the distal femur at an angle that mimics the deformity so that when the deformity is corrected the pins will be parallel.

Place the guide wire for the blade plate into the femoral neck and head in the predetermined ideal location. Advance the seating chisel over the wire, taking care to enter the bone at the ideal angle in the sagittal plane. Any planned flexion or extension would be set at this time.

For valgus osteotomy, the blade plate can be inserted before completing the osteotomy while the bone is still stable. The plate is then used to help obtain the correction. For varus-producing osteotomies, the bone is cut before the blade plate is inserted (because of impingement of the plate on the femoral shaft), and the seating chisel is used to help reduce the proximal fragment. For proximal femoral varus osteotomy on hips in patients in early stages of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, Kim et al recommended achieving 10-15º of varus correction.[22]

The osteotomy is typically made at the level of the lesser trochanter. With a valgus-producing osteotomy, a small wedge of bone can be removed to improve bone contact at the osteotomy site. A compression device can be used, and the screws are then inserted through the plate. Wounds are closed in layers over a drain.

External fixation

An external fixator is also a fixed-angle device. It is mounted percutaneously and can be combined with a percutaneous osteotomy. An acute correction is typical. The fixator allows for postoperative adjustability, works well in presence of infection (no internal hardware), and permits simultaneous lengthening through osteotomy. However, the frame may be uncomfortable, a risk of pin tract infection exists, and a second surgical procedure is required for frame removal.

External fixation is typically reserved for low intertrochanteric or subtrochanteric osteotomies.[23] When external fixation is employed, all half pins are inserted percutaneously. All half pins are predrilled and then hand-inserted to reduce the risk of bone necrosis. The C-arm is used to establish orientation of the drill to ensure that the pins are ideally placed.

Two or three pins are used per segment to achieve stability. One half pin is placed centrally into the femoral neck and head. An additional one or two pins are placed above the level of the lesser trochanter. Three or four pins are placed in the shaft of the femur for stability.

If Ilizarov-type rings are used, one ring or ring block is attached to each segment to mimic the deformity. A percutaneous osteotomy is made, and the rings are manipulated so as to place the femur into the desired alignment. If the rings truly mimic the deformity, the reduction is obtained by making the rings parallel. The rings are then fixed to one another. The same correction can be obtained by using a monolateral fixator. Again, the frame is mounted in the deformed position and then promptly or gradually moved into the corrected position.

Postoperative Care

Drains are removed on postoperative day 1. In most cases, partial weightbearing is allowed immediately. Wound care is routine. Showering and pin-care protocols are surgeon-specific; typically, showering begins after postoperative day 4.


Major complications of a femoral osteotomy include the following:

  • Infection
  • Neurovascular injury
  • Nonunion
  • Inability to obtain or maintain a full correction
  • Persistence of pain postoperatively
  • Continued degeneration of hip articular cartilage

Other complications include the following:

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Painful hardware

With regard to external fixation, complications include the following[24] :

  • Pin-site infection
  • Fracture above or below the frame and fracture through a screw hole after frame removal
  • Stiffness of adjacent joints
  • Septic arthritis if pins communicate with the joint