Labral Tears

What is a labral tear?

The labrum is a soft, yet strong, piece of cartilage that lines the rim of your shoulder socket. This piece of cartilage allows the head of your upper arm bone, also known as the humeral head, to securely fit into the shoulder socket, helping to keep the shoulder joint stabilized. The labrum also helps to attach and connect other joint structures to each other. A tear in the labrum is referred to as a labral tear.

There are various types of labral tears and various ways in which the labrum can tear. One type of labral tear, which usually occurs when the shoulder has dislocated, involves the labrum becoming completely detached from the shoulder bone. A labral tear can also occur when the labrum wears away gradually over time — this is usually seen as people begin to age.

Another type of labral tear occurs in the superior, or top, portion of the labrum and affects the anterior, meaning the front, and the posterior, meaning the back, of the labrum. This is referred to as a SLAP tear, which stands for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. This type of tear most commonly affects athletes who are involved in sports that require frequent or repetitive overhead arm motions.

What causes labral tears?

Labral tears can occur over time due to repeating or ongoing trauma, specifically from over-the-head throws or other arm movements. Because of this, certain athletes, such as baseball players and tennis players, may be more vulnerable to labral tears. Labral tears can also occur from sudden injury or trauma to the shoulder. Sudden injury to the shoulder can occur as a result of improperly lifting heavy objects, an abrupt or forceful jerk to the arm, falling, or sustaining other direct damage to the shoulder.

What are the symptoms of a labral tear?

Depending on the severity and type of labrum tear, you may not experience any symptoms. However, as the tear worsens, pain of the shoulder is often experienced. You may also feel as though your shoulder joint is locking, popping, or grinding when you move. Other symptoms of a labral tear may include:

  • A decrease in shoulder mobility
  • Weakness or loss of strength in the shoulder
  • Pain while engaging in routine activities
  • Pain when at rest
  • Feeling as though the shoulder is no longer stable
  • Feeling as though the shoulder joint is going to slip out of place

How can I tell if I have torn my labrum?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or believe you have a torn labrum, an evaluation by an experienced medical professional can help determine the cause of your symptoms. To help diagnose a labral tear, your doctor will begin by going over your medical history and symptoms. Next, your doctor will perform various physical exams to help assess your mobility, strength, and degree of pain. To ensure that your symptoms are not the result of similar conditions and to determine the level of damage, your doctor may need to perform additional testing. Additional testing may include X-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds.

How is a torn labrum treated?

If you are suffering from a torn labrum and are seeking pain relief, there are surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available. Based on various factors, such as the type of tear, your activity level, and symptoms, treatment will vary.

Here at our practice, whenever possible, we aim to first recommend nonsurgical treatments to help restore mobility, alleviate pain, and prevent the progression of damage. Nonsurgical treatment options may include:

  • Resting and avoiding overhead activities
  • Avoiding activities that induce shoulder pain
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to bring down swelling and pain
  • Physical therapy and exercise to improve shoulder strength and mobility
  • Steroid injections to help alleviate pain

When nonsurgical treatment options are ineffective, we specialize in and offer surgical treatment options such as arthroscopy and open shoulder surgery to help effectively treat and repair labral tears. Platelet-rich plasma therapy may also be used to help promote cartilage growth, alleviate pain, and enhance recovery time.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a labral tear, a consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be the first step towards diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Dr. Burrus is an experienced fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who is dedicated to providing high-quality, specialized holistic care. Call 512.477.6341 or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment.