Postarthroscopic glenohumeral chondrolysis (PAGCL) is an extremely painful condition marked by the deterioration of articular cartilage in the shoulder joint. The loss of this protective cartilage, which prevents bone from rubbing against bone, normally results in a marked weakness of the afflicted joint, constant pain whether at rest or in motion, diminished range of motion, and clicking, grinding or popping sounds when the arm is moved.

PAGCL is being linked to the use of pain pumps.

Pain Pumps and the link to PAGCL

Pain pumps are devices that are designed to deliver controlled doses of pain medication through a catheter directly to the shoulder. The devices are typically installed after surgery is performed on the shoulder. The intent is to remove the need for oral prescription pain killers, which take more time to work, and can be addictive and have harsh side effects. Pain pumps should deliver immediate relief for intense post-op shoulder pain.

Because of their perceived benefits, many patients choose to have the pain pumps surgically implanted. However, several doctors and medical researchers allege that the pain pumps actually do more harm than good in a lot of patients.

A 2006 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons examined several people with PAGCL and found that the one thing they had in common was that they all used pain pumps after having surgery on their shoulders.

A 2007 study by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Charles Beck, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine,  claimed there was “a strong association between the intra-articular use of high volume pain pumps following arthroscopic shoulder surgery and an otherwise unexplainable loss of hyaline cartilage in the shoulder joint.”

Dr. Beck’s study followed the unfortunate realization that the pain pumps he implanted in 16 patients were doing more harm than good. Of the 16 patients, 13 of them lost the articular cartilage in their shoulder joints, causing irreversible damage and extreme pain.

The case of one of Dr. Beck’s patients, 28-year-old Erika Creech, shows how debilitating the destruction caused by pain pumps can be. Creech had a pain pump implanted after surgery for a dislocated shoulder, but began to experience grinding and clicking sounds and loss of motion in her arm. She was also in a lot of pain. Her shoulder has been permanently damaged as a result of the pain pump use.

Creech has yet to fully adapt to life with a ruined shoulder joint. If she must lift anything above her shoulder, she uses her good arm, and she has come up with ways to perform difficult tasks such as fixing her hair.

“Doing my hair, I put my foot up on counter and put my elbow on my knee so that I can do my hair,” she told KSL, an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah. Creech eventually opted for shoulder replacement surgery, but her body rejected it. She has since undergone 11 additional surgeries and has had to quit school.

“When I look back on it, if I hadn’t had all these surgeries, where would I be now? In a totally different place,” Creech told KSL.

Several brands and models of pain pumps exist, but none of them are safe. Still, many surgeons continue to implant them in their patients despite the mounting evidence that they are destructive to so many patients, often leading to a deterioration of both the cartilage and even the bone.

Patients who have a pain pump or have had one in the past should report any pain, unusual noises, or loss of mobility in their shoulder to their physician immediately as these may be signs of PAGCL.

Legal Options

We are no longer taking claims regarding intra-articular pain pumps. The statute of limitations has expired on all claims.

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