WHAT IS A SLAP TEAR (SHOULDER LABRUM TEAR)?
A SLAP tear is an injury to the labrum — a soft rim of cartilage lining the shoulder socket. SLAP tears usually consist of a shoulder lesion or shoulder labrum tear. The term itself is an acronym of “Superior Labral tear from Anterior to Posterior,” in reference to the most commonly affected area.
Caused by a tear or lesion in the top of the cartilage surrounding the shoulder joint, a SLAP tear is generally accompanied by a consistent set of symptoms, though their severity can vary. Regardless of the specific cause, this injury can significantly weaken athletic performance and even limit your ability to complete everyday tasks.
LABRUM TEAR SYMPTOMS
What Does a SLAP Tear Feel Like?
The most common symptoms of a SLAP tear include a deep and persistent pain in the shoulder joint, a limited range of motion, an inability to lift objects overhead, and locking, popping, and grinding sensations in the shoulder. Athletes may also feel discomfort when throwing or lifting objects, decreased strength in the shoulder, or the dreaded “dead arm” in some cases.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it may be worth visiting your orthopedic specialist to determine whether you have a SLAP tear. Your doctor can recommend the best course of action to ensure that you recover quickly and painlessly from the injury.
WHAT CAUSES A SLAP TEAR?
A SLAP tear can result from any physical activity that involves the shoulder labrum, from strenuous weightlifting at the gym to placing a book on a shelf. It’s most commonly suffered by athletes, particularly baseball players and swimmers; the frequent lifting and rotation of the arms in these sports places the labrum at much greater risk. It can also be the product of acute trauma, especially if the arm is subjected to extreme pressure while outstretched. Since the labrum gradually degenerates over time, gradual use and overuse can lead to a SLAP tear, as well.
SLAP TEAR TESTS & DIAGNOSIS
Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you may want to consult an orthopedic specialist to determine whether your injury is indeed a SLAP tear. SLAP tears are diagnosed by a physical exam and usually an MRI scan is performed. Your doctor may review your medical history to rule out other factors that could be causing the problem, especially if you have had a shoulder injury in the past.
SLAP TEAR RECOVERY
If your doctor diagnoses you with a SLAP tear, don’t worry: as debilitating as they can be at the time, SLAP tears usually don’t result in a long-term loss of function if treated. Your orthopedic specialist can suggest a variety of treatment options, from physical therapy to surgery. In most cases, your doctor will recommend a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure.
After the procedure, it’s recommended that you limit motion of your arm and shoulder joint for several days. Your arm may stay in a sling for one week, and physical therapy generally begins 2-3 days after the procedure. While athletes can usually resume throwing in three to four months, complete recovery may take up to six months.
WHAT ELSE COULD BE CAUSING YOUR SHOULDER PAIN?
SLAP tears aren’t the only orthopedic injury that affects your shoulders. Bone spurs, dislocations, torn rotator cuffs, and AC joint osteolysis could all cause significant pain or discomfort and limit your ability to perform day-to-day tasks. We recommend visiting an orthopedic specialist for a holistic diagnosis of your symptoms.
HOW IS A SLAP TEAR TREATED?
So you’ve decided to see a specialist for your shoulder pain. What happens next
Depending on the pattern of the tear and your symptoms, SLAP tears can be treated in several ways. Most commonly, they’re repaired with arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure during which the surgeon mends the damaged labrum through a pin hole incision.
Alternatively, your orthopedic specialist might recommend physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications for the affected shoulder. While it is not common that a SLAP tear heals on its own, physical therapy can sometimes alleviate symptoms if the tear is small and the shoulder is stable.
HOW WE PERFORM SLAP TEAR SURGERY
As with any arthroscopic surgery, our surgeons make a few small pin hole incisions through which to view and repair the damaged labrum and biceps tendon. If the tendon is involved or has been detached, every effort is made to repair the labrum and stabilize the tendon. If the damage is confined to the labrum, the unhealthy torn flap of the labrum will be trimmed. With this minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure, we avoid injuries to surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves.
Leon E. Popovitz, MD, our co-founder, has an exceptionally high success rate, and his rehab program includes a much shorter post-op immobilization period than many other programs (one week compared to the standard four).
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER A SLAP TEAR SURGERY
We will be with you every step of the way during your recovery period, ensuring that you can get back to the sports and physical activities you love as quickly as possible.
Our surgeons will closely monitor your progress after the procedure. For the first week (or up to four weeks, depending on the severity of damage), we’ll provide you with a sling to keep your arm immobilized and, if needed, prescribe pain medication. Within two to three days of the procedure, we’ll connect you with a physical therapist who will follow our directed program specifically designed to meet your needs. Physical therapy will be gentle during the first month post-op. After four weeks, PT exercises will advance, focusing on strengthening the muscles and improving your range of motion.
Your first follow up appointment with your surgeon is one week after surgery, then every six weeks until you are fully recovered and ready to return to your full range of activities. During these appointments, your doctor will examine the stability of the repair and your progress towards regaining strength and range of motion. At every step of the process, we provide the care and close attention you’d expect from your devoted orthopedic surgeon.
SLAP TEAR SURGERY RECOVERY TIME
Recovery time will vary for each patient, but in general, patients feel comfortable performing day-to-day tasks within a few weeks of surgery.
Full recovery takes a bit longer: optimal strength is generally restored to the labrum at five months. Strenuous lifting is not allowed before this milestone.
EXPERIENCING PAIN? DO YOU HAVE AN INJURY?
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