Evidence-Based Orthopaedics   |    
Published Evidence Demonstrating the Causation of Glenohumeral Chondrolysis by Postoperative Infusion of Local Anesthetic Via a Pain Pump
Frederick A. Matsen, III, MD1; Anastasios Papadonikolakis, MD1
1 Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center, Box 356500, 1959 N.E. Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail address for F.A. Matsen III: matsen@u.washington.edu
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Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2013 Jun 19;95(12):1126-1134. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.01104
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Glenohumeral chondrolysis is the irreversible destruction of previously normal articular cartilage, occurring most commonly after shoulder surgery in young individuals. The reported incidence of this complication has risen rapidly since the early 2000s. As chondrolysis cannot be reversed, its occurrence can only be prevented by establishing and avoiding its causes.


We analyzed all published cases of glenohumeral chondrolysis, including the relevant published laboratory data, to consolidate the available evidence on the causation of this complication by the postoperative intra-articular infusion of local anesthetic via a pain pump.


Analysis of the published evidence demonstrated a causal relationship between the infusion of local anesthetic and the development of glenohumeral chondrolysis. The risk of this complication in shoulders receiving intra-articular infusions via a pain pump was significantly greater with higher doses of local anesthetic: twenty of forty-eight shoulders receiving high-flow infusions developed chondrolysis, whereas only two of twenty-five shoulders receiving low-flow infusions developed this complication (p = 0.0029). Eleven of twenty-two shoulders receiving 0.5% bupivacaine developed chondrolysis, whereas none of six shoulders receiving 0.25% bupivacaine developed this complication (p = 0.05). Of twenty-two shoulders infused with 0.5% bupivacaine, the eleven that developed chondrolysis had a mean pain pump delivery volume of 377 mL, whereas the eleven that did not develop chondrolysis had a mean volume of 187 mL (p = 0.003). Among shoulders in which an intra-articular pain pump was used, the risk of chondrolysis was significantly greater when suture anchors were placed in the glenoid for labral repair (p < 0.001).


The published evidence indicates that the preponderance of cases of glenohumeral chondrolysis can be prevented by the avoidance of the intra-articular infusion of local anesthetic via a pain pump.

Level of Evidence: 

Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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