The shoulder is the most mobile but one of the least stable joints in the body. Because it’s used repetitively by throwing athletes, special attention should be paid to maintaining its strength, health, and function. In order to prevent injuries, it’s important that athletes educate themselves. One of the most common injuries sustained by throwing athletes is a SLAP tear of the soft tissue, known as the labrum, that helps hold the shoulder in place.
Illustration 1- A SLAP tear
A SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) tear is a serious injury that sidelines athletes for an extended period of time. In some cases, it can be treated with physical therapy. However, in most, it requires surgical intervention. Recovery is physical therapy intensive and full recovery can take 8-12 months.
Causes of a Labrum Tear
The injury usually occurs during the ‘follow-through phase’ of the throwing motion. After the athlete releases the ball, stress is placed on the shoulder as it quickly decelerates. If the muscles of the shoulder are weak, due to muscle imbalance or overuse, the shoulder can dislocate, tearing the labrum. The labrum can be described as a suction cup keeping the Humerus in the cup of the joint. Significant tension and forces can cause the labrum to tear.
Illustration 2- SLAP tears usually occur during the follow through (fourth picture) of the throwing motion
Signs and Symptoms of a Labrum Tear
The following signs might be indicative of a SLAP tear:
-Locking, catching, popping, and/or grinding of the shoulder
-Inability to effectively throw
-A shoulder dislocation
-Decreased range of motion
Common symptoms include:
-Swelling and numbness can also occur.
Diagnosis of a Labrum Tear
Orthopedic sports medicine specialists are the most qualified medical professionals to diagnose SLAP tears. Their diagnostic process usually includes:
- Taking a detailed medical history. Determining how and why the injury occurred provides diagnostic clues.
- Performing a thorough physical exam. Symptoms that present with certain movements or positions helps diagnose the injury.
- Analyzing medical imaging studies. X-rays, Ultrasound and MRIs help confirm the diagnosis.
Once a patient has been diagnosed with a SLAP tear, a treatment plan is made.
Treatment for a Labrum Tear
As previously mentioned, SLAP tears are usually treated using surgical intervention. During the procedure, the specialist locates the tear and then repairs it using anchors that reattach the labrum to the bone. The procedure usually takes 1-2 hours and is done on an outpatient basis and often can be done arthroscopically through three very small incisions.
Seeking Treatment for a Labrum Tear
Athletes should never play with an injury. If your shoulder hurts or you can relate to the information in this post, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our 5 Fairfield County offices to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists. We’ll get you back on the field ASAP!