A protocol for the management of irritable hip was assessed; this protocol avoids hospital admission while detecting all other serious causes of hip pain, in particular septic arthritis, at the earliest possible opportunity. Fifty children with painful hips were studied prospectively with immediate ultrasound guided aspiration and Gram stain of all hip effusions. Bone scintigraphy performed at an early stage was reserved for patients with unremitting symptoms. Thirty six hips were aspirated. Only two patients were admitted. The final diagnoses were transient synovitis (45 cases), Perthes' disease (three cases), fracture (one case), and septic arthritis (one case). The single case of hip sepsis was diagnosed on presentation. The traditional approach to management is questioned and the advantages of the protocol highlighted, including earliest diagnosis of sepsis and other serious pathology, avoidance of hospital admission, and the relief of pain by joint decompression.