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The distribution of nociceptive innervation in the painful hip

A histological investigation

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Our understanding of the origin of hip pain in degenerative disorders of the hip, including primary osteoarthritis, avascular necrosis and femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), is limited. We undertook a histological investigation of the nociceptive innervation of the acetabular labrum, ligamentum teres and capsule of the hip, in order to prove pain- and proprioceptive-associated marker expression. These structures were isolated from 57 patients who had undergone elective hip surgery (44 labral samples, 33 ligamentum teres specimens, 34 capsular samples; in 19 patients all three structures were harvested). A total of 15 000 histological sections were prepared that were investigated immunohistochemically for the presence of protein S-100, 68 kDa neurofilament, neuropeptide Y, nociceptin and substance P. The tissues were evaluated in six representative areas.

Within the labrum, pain-associated free nerve ending expression was located predominantly at its base, decreasing in the periphery. In contrast, the distribution within the ligamentum teres showed a high local concentration in the centre. The hip capsule had an almost homogeneous marker expression in all investigated areas.

This study showed characteristic distribution profiles of nociceptive and pain-related nerve fibres, which may help in understanding the origin of hip pain.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2013;95-B:770–6.

Correspondence should be sent to Professor M. Jäger; e-mail:

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