An Overview of Shoulder Labral Tears and SLAP Tears
When the labrum, which is an important type of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid (the socket of the shoulder), is injured or torn, it is referred to as a shoulder labral tear. While the glenoid itself has a moderately flat surface, the labrum’s contour deepens the socket and gives the glenoid a concave shape, enhancing stability of the shoulder. The solid, firm, yet flexible fit of the humerus (the bone that extends from the shoulder to the elbow) within the glenoid permits the immense range motion that a healthy shoulder is able to exhibit.
A shoulder labral tear, which is quite common, is usually caused from falls when the arm is stretched out or from repetitive work or overhead sports activities (throwing, swimming, overhead lifting). A SLAP tear (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior) is a special type of tear in the labrum that occurs at the upper part of the labrum where the long head of the biceps tendon attaches to the glenoid. These types of injuries are particularly common in athletes who participate in overhead sports, such as tennis or baseball. An injury in this area can be extremely painful, and in severe cases can even cause bicep tendon tear or rupture.
When evaluating an individual who is suspected to have either a labral tear or a SLAP tear, it is important to determine if the labral tear is associated with any type of pre-existing instability to the shoulder. If instability is involved, then some type of shoulder stabilization procedure will need to take place first. X-rays will rule out any precursors or underlying problems that might exist such as an impingement or a fracture. If instability is not an issue or at the root of the problem, surgery can be directed to the labral tear itself.