Shoulder Labral Tear Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

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The labrum is a “bumper” of tissue around the shoulder socket that helps your shoulder stay comfortably in place. When the labrum is torn, you may experience a range of symptoms from generalized pain, to pain with specific arm motions, and even recurrent shoulder dislocations. This is known as a labral tear. You may not be able to do things you would otherwise find normal, like reaching to the top of the cabinet or throwing a ball.

Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of a Labral Shoulder Tear

If your labrum is torn, you may experience instability and weakness with some discomfort and pain. Oftentimes, the symptoms of labral tears are disruptive enough that you will likely know it needs to be evaluated, and the best specialist for these injuries is an orthopedic surgeon.

There are videos on YouTube that offer some tests for diagnosing a torn labrum.  However, these videos can be misleading and inaccurate. If you think you have a torn labrum, we recommend seeing a professional. A detailed physical exam and an MRI is the best way to diagnose a labral tear and its severity.

Those who play overhead sports like baseball, tennis or softball may be more prone to get a tear in their shoulder. Repeated overhead motions and shoulder trauma can also cause labral tears.

Strain vs. Tear

A strain is when the labrum is overstretched, rather than completely torn. Symptoms are similar to a tear, but less severe. A labral tear is when a portion of the labrum becomes detached from the socket. Pain from either of these types of injuries can be inconsistent and some patients can tolerate a labral tear during many activities.

You may also wonder if you have injured your rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a series of muscles that actively work to keep the shoulder joint in place during overhead function. Rotator cuff problems are a completely different issue from labral tears, and an MRI is the best way to determine the specifics of your injury and the health of the rotator cuff.

“SLAP” tears of the labrum are a specific variety of labral tear in upper part of the labrum where the biceps tendon attaches.  This is the most common type of traumatic labrum tear after throwing activities or forceful overhead injuries.

Labrum tears that result from a shoulder dislocation are called “Bankart” tears are a unique problem.  In many younger patients, these types of tears should be repaired in order to prevent recurrent dislocations of the shoulder joint.  Older patients with Bankart tears from dislocation may be able to be treated with just physical therapy. However, other structures can be injured during a shoulder dislocation, so an MRI is very important to define how much damage has occurred.

Labral Tear Treatment

Generally, a traumatic labrum tear is likely to need surgery to become pain free. However, degenerative labrum tears that are commonly seen in shoulder arthritis do NOT need surgery and can be treated with non-operative care.

Surgery is most often successful when the labrum tear is a result of an injury and may be a good option if your orthopedist recommends it.  Surgeries for labrum tears are generally performed using a minimally invasive approach like arthroscopy and are almost always outpatient.  When the labral tears are degenerative and associated with arthritis, the treatment is usually non-operative but may predict shoulder replacement if the arthritis gets significantly worse.

Recovery / Healing

Recovery from a labrum surgery typically takes 2 to 6 months depending on the type of repair and the severity of the damage to the labrum. Healing time can take this long because the repaired labrum needs to must heal to the bone before full activity can begin.

Physical Therapy will play a big role in recovery from labral surgery.  The goals of physical therapy are to encourage healing of the labrum, restore range of motion, and improve overhead function.

JIS can diagnose and treat your injury, and help you recover

If you have a shoulder injury or chronic shoulder pain, we can help you. Schedule an appointment to get a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.


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