Shoulder Pain: Is it a “SLAP Tear”?

The shoulder is one of the most complicated joints in the human body, containing a complex network of tendons, ligaments, nerves cartilage and soft tissue. For this reason, shoulders are easy to injury – but the exact cause or type of injury can be difficult to diagnose.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain it could be a “SLAP Tear”. This type of shoulder injury can be very painful, as well as limit motion in the shoulder, especially overhead movements.

In this article board certified hand surgeon Dr. Rehman explains what causes a SLAP Tear in the shoulder, how it is diagnosed, and how it can be treated.

What is a Shoulder SLAP Tear?

SLAP stands for “Superior Labrum Tear from Anterior to Posterior”. The labrum is a piece of cartilage in the inner portion of the shoulder joint. Superior means “on the top” and “Anterior to Posterior” means from front to back.

A SLAP tear occurs when there is damage to the top of the labrum, or to the point where the biceps tendon connects to the labrum.

Symptoms of a SLAP tear include deep shoulder pain and decrease in certain shoulder motions. These symptoms typically intensify with certain types of activity, such as lifting objects overhead, throwing a ball or even swinging a bat or golf club.

Athletes with a SLAP tear often experience a decline in sports performance such as a decrease in shoulder power or reduced range of motion.

Patients with a SLAP tear may also experience locking, popping, clicking or grinding in the shoulder.

What Causes a Shoulder SLAP Tear?

SLAP Tears most commonly develop over time due to repetitive movements, such as participation in certain sports or industrial activities. But a SLAP tear can also result from acute trauma or age, though this is far less common.

Repetitive actions that often lead to a SLAP tear include athletic activities such as weightlifting, tennis, pitching and golfing.

Diagnosing a Shoulder SLAP Tear

Because many shoulder injuries result in pain and limited range of motion, it is almost impossible to identify a SLAP tear by symptoms alone. And, a SLAP tear will not appear on an x-ray because the labrum is made of soft tissue. However, x-rays can identify or rule out other shoulder problems that may be bone-related.

An MRI is usually performed first if a SLAP tear is suspected. While an MRI is the best non-invasive means of diagnosing a shoulder SLAP tear, it is possible for an MRI scan to miss a smaller tear. In these cases, arthroscopic surgery is the best way to confirm if the labrum is torn.

Treating a Shoulder SLAP Tear

Nonsurgical SLAP tear treatment is typically recommended first, depending on the type and degree of the tear (e.g. fraying vs. detachment).

Nonsurgical treatments include: elimination of the action or sport that caused it; anti-inflammatory medications to decrease swelling and pain; and physical therapy exercises. This type of treatment program can take from three to six months.

SLAP Tear Surgery may be required in more severe cases to repair the tear and prevent further damage to the shoulder. Th surgical options will vary depending on the type of SLAP tear (location, degree, etc.) and the patient’s age, activity level and health.

Arthroscopic surgery is the most common surgical technique for repairing a SLAP tear, because smaller incisions are made. This means less swelling and discomfort, and a faster recovery process. Generally a sling is needed for the first several weeks after SLAP surgery, followed by prescribed mild exercises or PT.

Recovery after SLAP surgery takes about 6 months. But often times athletes can resume interval activity three or four months after surgery. And the good news is that most patients regain full use of their shoulder following surgery.

Shoulder SLAP Tear Surgeon – Macomb County

If you are suffering from shoulder pain or limited range of motion, Doctor Rehman will assess and diagnose your shoulder problem, and prescribe the treatment, physical therapy or surgery that is best for your condition.

The sooner shoulder pain and injury is diagnosed and treated, the faster the recovery, the better the results, and the higher the chances that long term problems will be avoided.

SLAP Tear Surgeon – Macomb County: 586.532.0803