Transient synovitis (irritable hip)

  • Transient synovitis (sin-oh-vie-tis), commonly called irritable hip, is the most common cause of limping in children. It is due to inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the hip joint.

    In most cases of irritable hip, your child will have recently recovered from a viral infection. Sometimes, the condition occurs after a fall or injury.

    Irritable hip is most often seen in children aged between three and 10 years old. It is not serious, and will get better on its own with rest.

    Signs and symptoms of irritable hip

    If your child has irritable hip:

    • they may have a limp or difficulty crawling or standing
    • they may complain of pain in the hip, groin, thigh or knee.

    Some children may just be refusing to walk, without explanation. Usually only one side is affected. Children with irritable hip are otherwise well.

    A small number of children with irritable hip go on to have further episodes.

    Usually, no tests are required for irritable hip, and you can care for your child at home.

    Care at home

    Irritable hip is a mild condition that will get better on its own. Complete rest is usually all that is needed. It should start to improve in about three days and be better in two weeks.

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are helpful for irritable hip as they relieve the pain as well as reducing inflammation. Give the ibuprofen according to packet directions regularly for 48 hours. Paracetamol may also help with reducing the pain. Never give aspirin to children under the age of 12. See our fact sheet Pain relief for children.

    Antibiotics are not given as the condition is not caused by a bacterial infection.

    While your child is recovering:

    • It is important to encourage your child to rest at home. They will naturally sit, crawl, walk or lie in the most comfortable position.
    • Allow your child to gradually go back to their usual activities as they improve, but they should not play sport or undertake any strenuous activities until they are completely better.

    When to see a doctor

    Take your child to the GP if your child: 

    • develops a fever or is otherwise unwell
    • develops an obvious swelling or redness on any part of the hip or leg
    • has increasing or persistent pain that is not relieved by ibuprofen or paracetamol
    • is in pain when they are at rest
    • is not starting to improve within three days or has not recovered fully in two weeks.

    Key points to remember

    • Transient synovitis (irritable hip) is the most common cause of limping in children.
    • It is generally a mild condition that will get better on its own with rest, usually within two weeks.
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g. ibuprofen, may help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    If my child has had irritable hip, should I take him to a physiotherapist to get exercises so it won’t happen again?

    Irritable hip cannot be prevented with any exercises, so seeing a physiotherapist is not usually required.

    What is the likelihood of this occurring again in my child?

    We estimate the recurrence rate is about 10 per cent. This means that one in 10 children will experience another episode of irritable hip.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Emergency department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed March 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


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