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The Media’s Take On Pain Pumps

In the wake of last Friday’s $5.5 million verdict for a pain pump patient and his wife, the media has picked up the pain pump story. Interestingly, The New York Times has an article in the Sports section, “Studies Link Rare Ailment to Pain Pumps.”

The article is in the Sports section for good reason—many of the patients whose shoulders have been ruined by pain pumps were high school and college athletes. I’ve spoken with swimmers, volleyball players, and softball players. One bowhunter I spoke to told me how humiliating it was to be hunting with his buddies, using a crossbow while they used compound bows, simply because he no longer had the arm strength to pull back the bowstring.


Of course, athletes are not the only ones with life-changing effects. Most people do not realize how important their shoulder is—day laborers use it every day, but so do office workers. Typing at a keyboard for eight hours a day can be extremely painful, if not impossible, when shoulder cartilage is destroyed. And, the majority of people with pain pump caused shoulder damage have difficulty sleeping, both because pressure on the shoulder causes pain, and the lack of cushioning between the “ball and socket” of the shoulder makes any movement excruciating.

The New York Times article is good, and provides most of the appropriate facts. The “multimedia” graphic of the pump and catheter inserted into a shoulder is useful for patients to know where the pump’s anesthetic flows into the body. The one part of the article I take issue with is the following:

Lawyers for the companies deny that the pain pumps were marketed for use in joints. They have also questioned whether the pumps caused chondrolysis, noting that some cases developed in patients who had never used one.

The documents from the companies themselves show that the pain pump manufacturers, especially I-Flow, were heavily marketing the pumps for use in the shoulder (which was not approved by the FDA because I-Flow did not have safety data). Also, chondrolysis (loss of shoulder cartilage) can be caused by other things, including infection and thermal wands. Those other causes are relatively easy to exclude, especially in young 16-25 year old patients who are left, because of the pain pump, with the shoulders of eighty-year olds.
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