Post-traumatic shoulder instability is a frequent condition in active population, representing one of most disabling pathologies, due to altered balance involving joints. No data are so far available on early ultrastructural osteo-chondral damages, associated with the onset of invalidating pathologies, like osteoarthritis-OA. Biopsies of glenoid articular cartilage and sub-chondral bone were taken from 10 adult patients underwent arthroscopic stabilization. Observations were performed under Transmission Electron Microscopy-TEM in tangential, arcuate and radial layers of the articular cartilage and in the sub-chondral bone. In tangential and arcuate layers chondrocytes display normal and very well preserved ultrastructure, probably due to the synovial liquid supply; otherwise, throughout the radial layer (un-calcified and calcified) chondrocytes show various degrees of degeneration; occasionally, in the radial layer evidences of apoptosis/autophagy were also observed. Concerning sub-chondral bone, osteocytes next to the calcified cartilage also show signs of degeneration, while osteocytes farther from the osteo-chondral border display normal ultrastructure, probably due to the bone vascular supply. The ultrastructural features of the osteo-chondral complex are not age-dependent. This study represents the first complete ultrastructural investigation of the articular osteo-chondral complex in shoulder instability, evaluating the state of preservation/viability of both chondrocytes and osteocytes throughout the successive layers of articular cartilage and sub-chondral bone. Preliminary observations here collected represent the morphological basis for further deepening of pathogenesis related to shoulder instability, enhancing the relationship between cell shape and microenvironment; in particular, they could be useful in understanding if the early surgical treatment in shoulder instability could avoid the onset of OA. Anat Rec, 300:1208–1218, 2017. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.