Thermal Capsulorrhaphy for the Treatment of Shoulder Instability

Authors: Anthony Miniaci and Michael J. Codsi

References: Am J Sports Med 2006 34: 1356-1363

Thermal capsulorrhaphy has been used to treat many different types of shoulder instability, including multidirectional instability, unidirectional instability, and microinstability in overhead-throwing athletes. A device that delivers laser energy or radiofrequency energy to the capsule tissue causes the collagen to denature and the capsule to shrink. The optimal temperature to achieve the most shrinkage without causing necrosis of the tissue is between 65° and 75° centigrade. This treatment causes a significant decrease in mechanical stiffness for the first 2 weeks, and then, after the tissue undergoes active cellular repair from the surrounding uninjured tissue, the mechanical properties return to near normal by 12 weeks. If the thermal energy is applied in a grid pattern, then the tissue heals with more stiffness by 6 weeks. Clinical studies on thermal capsulorrhaphy for the treatment of multidirectional instability have shown a high rate of recurrent instability (12%–64%). The clinical studies on unidirectional instability showed much better recurrence rates (4%–25%), but because most of the patients also underwent concomitant Bankart repairs and superior labral anterior posterior lesion repairs, the efficacy of the thermal treatment cannot be ascertained. A randomized controlled trial would be needed to assess whether instability with Bankart lesions requires augmentation with thermal capsulorrhaphy. For the patients with microinstability who are overhead-throwing athletes, thermal capsulorrhaphy has shown varying results from a 97% rate of return to sports to a 62% rate of return to sports. Complications of this technique include temporary nerve injuries that usually involve the sensory branch of the axillary nerve and thermal necrosis of the capsule, which is rare.


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