Torn Shoulder Labrum: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
What is the Shoulder Labrum?
The shoulder labrum is a cartilage disc within the shoulder that is attached to the rim of the shoulder socket. It is essential to helping keep the ball of the shoulder joint in place, as well as helping to maintain movement and stability of the shoulder. Labral tears of the shoulder can happen for many reasons,
Shoulder Labrum Tears
There are many different types of tears of the labrum, and they can occur due to injury, trauma or simple repetitive motions, such as throwing a ball. Most commonly, the labrum wears out over time and becomes frayed and is more susceptible to tearing.
A good example of this is with a baseball pitcher, who repetitively throws a ball over and over, putting chronic stress on the shoulder. This can eventually wear out the labrum and cause fraying of the labrum without actually detaching it. This can also be known as a SLAP tear (Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior).
A more extreme example is when someone falls onto their arm or shoulder, or when someone has an accident in which the ball of the shoulder actually pushes the labrum out of the socket. This can include a complete dislocation of the shoulder, which is incredibly painful and will almost always require surgical intervention.
Symptoms of a Torn Shoulder Labrum
While torn shoulder labrum symptoms may vary from person to person, there are a few common symptoms to be aware of, which include:
- Pain and aching in the shoulder area (the exact location may vary)
- Weakness or instability in the joint, often feeling as though the shoulder is falling out of place
- Locking, Clicking, or Popping
- Shoulder dislocation
If you have experienced any of these symptoms and think you may have a torn shoulder labrum, Dr. Goradia at G2 Orthopedics can perform an exam and review your injury and medical history with you to determine the best treatment plan.
Diagnosing a Shoulder Labral Tear
Shoulder labral tears are quite difficult to detect. To receive a proper diagnosis, you should see an orthopedic doctor. The orthopedic will do a series of tests to determine whether you have torn your labrum. At G2 Orthopedics, Dr. Goradia performs some basic movements of your arm and shoulder to determine where the pain resides. After reviewing your past medical history, he usually orders an MRI to verify diagnosis and begin an effective treatment plan.
The most accurate way to determine the extent of the injury is to use an arthroscopic camera, which will be inserted via incision into the shoulder. Upon inserting the device into the shoulder, the surgeon can look directly inside your joint and evaluate the injury. The benefit of this scenario is the surgeon can repair the damage at the same time.
Treatment Options for Labrum Tears
Treatment options for labral tears, and in some cases accompanying shoulder dislocations, depend largely on your age, lifestyle, and the severity of your tear. Dr. Goradia at G2 Orthopedics reviews all three of these with his patients to prescribe the most effective and efficient treatment plans for his patients.
If you are an athlete who wants to return to playing sports, surgery will often be needed. The type of surgery varies depending on the severity of your labral tear. Small tears or frays in the labrum are usually done through arthroscopic surgery, which is when a small incision is made and a camera is inserted into the opening to direct the repair and clean up the injury in a non-invasive manner. If the labrum is only slightly torn, the orthopedic surgeon will just clean the area and trim away any damaged cartilage. If the damage is more extensive, such as destabilization or complete dislocation, the surgeon must re-anchor the shoulder, which involves a more extensive surgery.
If you have dislocated your shoulder with your labral tear and are under 25 years old, immobilization accompanied by a treatment plan outlined by your orthopedic doctor may be an option. However, there is a less that 20% chance that you will not dislocate your shoulder again without having repair surgery.
For older patients who have dislocated their shoulder with a labral tear, nonsurgical treatment is more common. However, it is best to discuss your lifestyle needs with your doctor who can determine the best treatment plan for you.
Recovery after Shoulder Surgery
After having surgery on the shoulder, you will need to keep your arm in a sling for approximately a month. You can treat pain with over-the-counter pain medication or otherwise, depending on the advice of your doctor. Ice is helpful to reduce swelling.
Once mobility is regained, physiotherapy will be necessary to regain strength and movement. If the procedure was minor, you should be good to go around 2 months after the surgery. If you have complete repair surgery, you will need around 4 months.
Labral Tear Prevention
The best way to prevent labral tears is to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, and to avoid activities that put strain on the shoulder labrum. Thankfully, most people who have this kind of injury respond very well to the surgery, and almost always return to a full level of activity.
Get Back in The Game with G2 Orthopedics
If you think you’ve experienced a labral tear and would like some relief, call our office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Goradia. Dr. Goradia is an orthopedic expert committed to treating his patients with individualized care so they can get back to the activities they love.
*This post was originally published in 2015 but has been updated for 2023.