There’s an important part of your shoulder that you’ve probably never even thought about: your labrum. The labrum is a thick piece of cartilage that surrounds your shoulder socket. It keeps your shoulder joint stable by cupping the ball-shaped joint at the top of your arm bone and connecting it to the socket-shaped joint.
The rotator cuff holds your labrum in place on top of your shoulder. As we’ve covered before, the rotator cuff allows you to rotate your shoulder and arm freely and without pain.
Your labrum can be damaged by repetitive motions, overuse, and as a result of acute injury. Here’s what you need to know about a torn labrum—and when it’s time to see a doctor if you’re worried you might have one.
What is a Shoulder Labrum Tear?
A shoulder labrum can be torn as the result of an acute injury, or gradually over time from strain and overuse. Many repetitive motions can contribute to a torn labrum—as can the aging process.
There are three different ways to categorize a tear in the shoulder labrum.
- SLAP: We’ve covered SLAP tears extensively on our blog because they’re such a common injury—especially for athletes. A SLAP tear on the shoulder’s labrum is a specific kind of injury. It occurs when your labrum is torn in the front and the back of the shoulder. A SLAP tear is commonly seen in golfers, tennis players, and other athletes who consistently rely on overhead motions. With SLAP tears, we typically see injury done to the bicep as well as the labrum and rotator cuff.
- Bankart: When the damage occurs on the lower part of the glenoid socket, it’s referred to as a bankart tear or lesion. We typically see this kind of tear in younger people who’ve experienced dislocated shoulder.
- Posterior: This is when the damage occurs on the back, or posterior, side of the labrum. Overall, a posterior labrum tear is very rare and makes up only 5-10% of all shoulder injuries.
What Causes a Labrum Tear?
Overuse is one of the most common causes of a labrum tear. Tennis, baseball, and softball players, as well as other athletes, are at particular risk if they must repeatedly raise their arm over their head in a swinging motion.
In addition, there are certain injuries and falls that can contribute to a labrum tear. These include falling on an outstretched arm, a direct hard hit to the shoulder, and a rough pull on an outstretched arm.
What are the Symptoms of a Labrum Tear?
Your symptoms depend on where exactly the tear happened on your labrum. Labrum tears are usually very painful and make your entire shoulder feel as if it is unstable. Other symptoms include feeling like your shoulder is catching, locking, popping, or grinding. It’s also common to have a limited range of motion and significantly decreased strength in your shoulder.
If you’re experiencing a bankart tear, which is a tear on the lower part of your labrum, it might feel like your shoulder is about to slip out of its socket.
Additionally, experiencing pain at night when you’re trying to sleep or while doing everyday activities are common symptoms of a shoulder labrum tear.
What is the Diagnostic Process for a Shoulder Labrum Tear?
If you’re worried that you have a torn labrum, either from overuse or an acute injury, it’s important to see your doctor. They’ll likely refer you to a shoulder specialist, who will then test your range of motion, strength, and pain levels. Be as detailed as possible about how the injury occurred or be sure to give a thorough account of your daily exercises and routines.
Oftentimes, labrum tears accompany other kinds of shoulder injuries like dislocated shoulders, rotator cuff injuries, and bicep tears. While your labrum tissue is too soft to appear on an X-ray, your doctor may order one anyway in order to assess if there is additional injury to your shoulder. Additional scans may be necessary to determine the severity of the damage.
How Do You Treat a Torn Shoulder Labrum?
The first step in treating a torn shoulder labrum is to rest. Stop doing the activity that caused the labrum to tear and modify any new activity to prevent further damage.
Surgery is not the only treatment method for healing a torn shoulder labrum. In fact, many shoulder labrum injuries are treated by rest, over-the-counter medication, and physical therapy. The option that’s best for your specific injury depends on a number of factors, but here’s an overview of some common ways to treat a torn shoulder labrum.
If the tear isn’t too severe, your doctor may simply recommend treating it at home. This treatment method includes resting without performing any activities that would irritate the injury. In addition, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin to relieve the pain, and may even inject you with cortisone.
Even if the injury isn’t too severe, physical therapy is a great way to help get your shoulder back to its full range of motion. Your physical therapist will give you exercises and manual therapy to help re-strengthen the shoulder post-injury.
Physical therapy regimens last anywhere from six weeks to two months but it’s a great idea to keep up the exercises at home afterwards.
If the labrum tear is severe, your doctor may recommend a non-invasive arthroscopic surgery. This involves removing the damaged parts of the labrum as well as any damaged tissue preventing the shoulder from moving correctly.
It usually takes nine months to a year to fully recover from labrum surgery, but you’ll be able to return to your usual activities much sooner than that.
Worried You Have a Torn Shoulder Labrum?
You don’t have to live with severe shoulder pain. If you’re worried you might have a torn shoulder labrum, please reach out to my team and I for a consultation.
As a longstanding orthopedic surgeon in Raleigh, I’m here for you.
The material contained on this site is intended for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE– it is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider directly with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.