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What Is a Labral Tear and How Is It Treated?

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Does your shoulder catch or lock when you lift heavy objects? You may be experiencing symptoms of a labral tear. Understanding what a labral tear is and the types of treatments a shoulder specialist offers can help you be on your way to performing everyday tasks without worrying about shoulder pain.

What Is a Shoulder Labral Tear?

The labrum is a piece of cartilage that lines the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. When this rubbery tissue is torn, it is called a labral tear. While athletes are more prone to labral tears, anyone who experiences trauma to their shoulder is also at risk.

There are two common types of labral injuries: SLAP (superior labrum from anterior to posterior) tears and Bankart tears. SLAP tears occur where the bicep tendon connects to the shoulder at the front of the upper arm. Bankart tears, on the other hand, typically occur with shoulder dislocation in younger patients and can lead to either anterior or posterior instability of the humerus.

Labral Tear Symptoms

Labral tears can be quite painful and are often described as feeling like the shoulder joint is catching, locking, popping, or grinding. Other symptoms labral tear suffers commonly experience include a sense of instability in the shoulder, a decreased range of motion, and a loss of strength—pain at night or while performing daily activities is also often reported.

While this condition commonly occurs as a result of other shoulder injuries, like dislocations, rotator cuff injuries, and torn bicep tendons, some specific causes of sports-related labral tears include:

  • A fall on an outstretched arm
  • A direct hit to the shoulder
  • A violent blow while reaching overhead
  • A sudden tug on the arm

Some labral tears, however, are the result of a wearing down of the labrum that occurs naturally over time. In older patients, fraying or tearing of the labrum can be seen as a normal process of aging. This differs from acute injuries in athletes and younger individuals.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of a labral tear, your shoulder specialist will examine your shoulder to evaluate your range of motion, stability, and pain level. They may also order an X-ray to determine if other injuries may be causing your pain.

Labral Tear Treatment Options

Labral tears are typically treated with rest, over-the-counter medications, and physical therapy. In most cases, nonsurgical methods are effective in relieving symptoms and healing the injured ligaments.

If these methods are insufficient, however, your shoulder specialist may recommend surgery. Doctors often repair labral tears with arthroscopy. This minimally invasive procedure involves making a small incision in your shoulder to allow a small camera to capture images of the joint. Your surgeon will then to trim, repair, or reattach your labrum as needed.

Expect to be in a sling for a month or so after surgery. Once the swelling has subsided, you may begin moving your shoulder again with help from a physical therapist. Keep in mind that it could take up to two months for your labrum to heal completely and an additional two months to build up the same strength you had before the injury.

Labral tears of the shoulder are often painful and can cause decreased motion in the joint. Understanding what a labral tear is and your treatment options can help you resume a pain-free lifestyle faster. Our “Centers of Excellence” offer top-level orthopedic treatment for any shoulder concerns you may have, all in one location. Make an appointment today with one of our NY Orthopedics locations in New York City to start your healing journey.

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