SLAP Tear Surgery

Overview

What is SLAP tear surgery?

SLAP tear surgery, or arthroscopic SLAP tear surgery, is often done to repair damaged shoulder cartilage, called a SLAP tear. SLAP stands for Superior Labrum, Anterior to Posterior.

The L in SLAP refers to your glenoid labrum. Your labrum cushions the top part of your upper arm bone, or humerus. This cushion helps your upper arm bone stay in place in your shoulder socket. Your labrum is also 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.

SLAP tear surgery mends the tear in your labrum.

Why would I need SLAP tear surgery?

SLAP tear surgery is recommended when:

  • You still have SLAP tear symptoms despite non-surgical treatment.
  • A specific injury caused your tear and it affects your shoulder stability.
  • Your SLAP tear stems from overusing your shoulder.
  • You have a SLAP tear because you regularly play sports in where you throw, such as baseball.

When should I have SLAP tear surgery?

Your healthcare provider will weigh the following factors when considering surgery for SLAP tears:

  • The tear’s classification. Tears are classified based on location and if the tear affects other areas of your shoulder.
  • Your age. Healthcare providers take your age into account when considering treatments, which can include cleaning up frayed tissue rather than bicep tenodesis surgery.
  • Your typical activities.
  • Previous non-surgical treatment.

How long does it take to recover from SLAP tear surgery?

It can take a few months to more than a year to fully recover from SLAP tear surgery.

Are SLAP tear surgeries successful?

Overall, approximately 70% of SLAP tear surgeries are successful.

Procedure Details

What is arthroscopic SLAP tear surgery?

Your surgeon either repairs your torn labrum, attaches it to your shoulder socket or cuts your biceps tendon that’s attached to your labrum and attaches it to your humerus.

What happens before arthroscopic SLAP tear surgery?

This surgery can be done with local, regional or general anesthesia.

What happens during arthroscopic SLAP tear surgery?

  • Surgeons make an incision in your shoulder to insert a tiny camera called an arthroscope. The arthroscope enables surgeons to see your torn labrum and the shoulder socket area from which your labrum was torn.
  • When they find the torn section of your labrum, surgeons evaluate the damage done to your labrum.
  • If they decide to repair your labrum, surgeons use a rasp and shaver to prepare the torn section to be reattached to your shoulder socket.
  • Surgeons then drill a small hole in your shoulder socket for an anchor suture.
  • The final step is stitching your labrum to the anchor suture so your labrum lies flat against the shoulder socket.

What happens after SLAP tear surgery?

  • You’ll need to wear an arm sling or arm immobilizer for a week to several weeks after your surgery. As a result, you might need to take off work or ask for help with everyday activities including driving.
  • You might have some pain and discomfort after the surgery. Ice packs and pain medication should help relieve both.
  • Your shoulder might feel stiff. Your healthcare provider might recommend light exercises or physical therapy to help you strengthen your shoulder.
  • Your provider will remove your stitches about two weeks after your surgery.
  • You’ll probably need follow-up appointments every four to six weeks as your shoulder heals.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of SLAP tear surgery?

This surgery is effective when a torn labrum is the only problem with your shoulder.

What are complications of arthroscopic SLAP tear surgery?

Complications can include:

  • Infection.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Damage to blood vessels and nerves in your shoulder joint.
  • Recurring shoulder instability.
  • Shoulder stiffness.

When should I call my doctor?

You should call your doctor or nurse when you have:

  • Bleeding that soaks through your dressing and does not stop when you place pressure over the area.
  • Pain that does not go away when you take your pain medicine.
  • Swelling in your arm.
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers or hand.
  • Your hand or fingers are darker in color or feel cool to the touch.
  • Redness, pain, swelling, or a yellowish discharge from any of the wounds.
  • Temperature higher than 101°F (38.3°C).

Can I re-injure my shoulder and need another 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, tear another part of the labrum or tear the biceps tendon.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

There’s several reasons why you might need SLAP tear surgery to repair torn cartilage in the inner part of your shoulder joint. You might have tried non-surgical treatment. You might have hurt your shoulder in a specific incident or simply by overusing your shoulder. Regardless of how you hurt your shoulder, you should have treatment to fix it. 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. Talk to your healthcare provider about your painful shoulder and if SLAP tear surgery might be a solution for your shoulder pain.

Additional Details

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/20/2021.

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