A study of the link between fetal biomechanics and risk factors for DDH, published in the Journal of Biomechanics in 2018 and available here.
Fetal kicking and movements generate biomechanical stimulation in the fetal skeleton, which is important for prenatal musculoskeletal development, particularly joint shape. Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) is the most common joint shape abnormality at birth, with many risk factors for the condition being associated with restricted fetal movement. In this study, we investigate the biomechanics of fetal movements in such situations, namely fetal breech position, oligohydramnios and primiparity (firstborn pregnancy). We also investigate twin pregnancies, which are not at greater risk of DDH incidence, despite the more restricted intra-uterine environment. We track fetal movements for each of these situations using cine-MRI technology, quantify the kick and muscle forces, and characterise the resulting stress and strain in the hip joint, testing the hypothesis that altered biomechanical stimuli may explain the link between certain intra-uterine conditions and risk of DDH. Kick force, stress and strain were found to be significantly lower in cases of breech position and oligohydramnios. Similarly, firstborn fetuses were found to generate significantly lower kick forces than non-firstborns. Interestingly, no significant difference was observed in twins compared to singletons. This research represents the first evidence of a link between the biomechanics of fetal movements and the risk of DDH, potentially informing the development of future preventative measures and enhanced diagnosis. Our results emphasise the importance of ultrasound screening for breech position and oligohydramnios, particularly later in pregnancy, and suggest that earlier intervention to correct breech position through external cephalic version could reduce the risk of hip dysplasia.