SLAP tears happen when you tear cartilage in the inner part of your shoulder joint. The tears can be caused by injury or overuse and make it painful or difficult for you to move your shoulder and arm. Left untreated, these tears can cause chronic pain, limit how much you can use your arm and shoulder and lead to more serious shoulder problems.
At any point in time, 25% of adults will deal with shoulder pain due to injury or overuse. Superior Labrum, Anterior to Posterior tears (SLAP tears), also known as labrum tears, represent 4% to 8% of all shoulder injuries.
The L in SLAP refers to your glenoid labrum. Your labrum plays two important roles in keeping your shoulder functioning and pain free. First, your labrum is a cushion for the top part of your upper arm bone. This cushion helps your upper arm bone stay where it belongs – cradled in your shoulder socket. Second, your labrum is a connection point between your shoulder blade socket and one of your bicep tendons.
The S in SLAP refers to the top of your labrum. When this part of your labrum tears, your upper arm bone loses its cushion and your bicep tendon loses its connection to your shoulder blade socket. As a result, your shoulder hurts and feels unstable.
There are several ways to tear your labrum. SLAP tears are common injuries for people who play sports. Your labrum can be torn by an injury or simply over time as you age.
Some SLAP tears can be treated with rest and physical therapy, but some may require surgery.
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Left untreated, SLAP tear symptoms may get worse, causing chronic shoulder pain and decreasing your ability to use your arm and shoulder.
It can take up to six months to a year to recover from a SLAP tear.
SLAP tears have three causes:
Common SLAP tear symptoms include:
Providers use the following tests to diagnose SLAP tears and determine treatment:
Healthcare providers weigh the following factors when considering surgery for SLAP tears:
There are several different SLAP types and sub-types. The most common SLAP tear is the type 2 tear. Type 2 tears have several sub-types, each describing different ways a type 2 tear might appear:
SLAP tear treatment depends on the amount and kind of damage healthcare providers find when they examine your labrum. They might recommend non-surgical therapies first before concluding surgery is the best option. Regardless, SLAP tears can take months to fully heal.
Here are common SLAP tear treatments:
Some SLAP tears are unavoidable. You might get a SLAP tear if you tried to break your fall with your outstretched arm. But you can also tear your labrum in daily activities like regularly playing sports that use overhead arm movements and lifting things with jerking movements.
Here’s how you can prevent a SLAP tear:
Recovering from SLAP tear treatment is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take three to four months for non-surgical treatment to help relieve your pain and improve your functioning. It can take up to a year to fully recover from SLAP tear surgery.
Recurring, new or more serious SLAP tears are common. People who resume the physical activity that caused the labrum tear can re-injure a healed labrum or cause another tear in another part of the labrum.
Recovering from SLAP tears and treatment doesn’t mean you can’t participate in sports or other activities. It does mean you need to protect your shoulder from new or recurring injuries. Here’s how to do that:
Questions to ask your doctor:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You may not realize how much you use your shoulder until it hurts to use your shoulder. Fortunately, there are several ways to treat SLAP tears. Regardless of the treatment, recovery will take time. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you have any type of difficulties during your recovery, including emotional issues. Your provider can recommend resources to help you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/12/2022.
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