Shoulder Labrum Tear – What is It and How to Treat It

What is a Shoulder Labrum Tear?

The shoulder joint is quite complex and there are several muscles, nerves, and tendons that are connected to the joint. On the edge of the socket of the shoulder joint is a ring of cartilage known as the glenoid labrum. The purpose of the cartilage is to provide support and stability for the shoulder joint. When this cartilage is disrupted in some way it is called a Labrum Tear.

The cartilage in the shoulder can be frayed, ripped, or torn. There can be several causes for this type of tear, but most commonly they occur from extra strain from the bicep muscle or from compressing the joint when the arm is overhead. It can also be caused by some outside impact to the joint such as a fall or repetitive overuse to the joint – especially with overhead movements. This can be very painful and lead to instability and, in severe cases, dislocation of the shoulder joint.

Symptoms and Types of Tears

Labral tears can be a partial or complete tear, but there are two main types of tears; traumatic labral tears and nontraumatic tears.

Traumatic labral tears are generally caused by a single traumatic event. These are generally activities that require the use of the arms over the head or the use of the arm in a swinging motion. Falling on an outstretched arm can also cause a labral tear.

Nontraumatic tears are generally the result of joint instability and/or muscle weakness. Adding outside stress and extra activity to the shoulder that has weak muscles can cause a tear in the cartilage.

Some of the main symptoms to look for in a labral tear are pain in the shoulder area specifically in the top of the shoulder. The shoulder may feel like it will slip out of place and feel very unstable. One shoulder may feel weaker than the other one. In some cases while moving the shoulder there can be a ‘popping’ or ‘clicking’ sound. Some tears can be very small and there are no symptoms which can take time to heal properly especially when there is overuse of the joint. In these cases it is important to discuss any symptoms or new activities with your physician or physical therapist. They will be able to treat and diagnose your symptoms.

Treatment Options

In severe cases of shoulder labral tears, such as a dislocation of the shoulder and extreme instability, the main treatment option is surgery. However, the majority of people that suffer from labral tears do not require surgery and can be treated by a physical therapist.

A physical therapist can offer a wide range of treatments to help strengthen the joint as well as relieve the pain and other symptoms associated with the tear. Strengthening exercises can help stabilize the joint and allow it to heal quicker. Stretching exercises are also a common treatment which can help increase flexibility and improve the overall function of the muscles around the joint. After a treatment plan has been put in place a physical therapist will usually suggest exercises to do at home on your own, but this should only be done at the recommendation of a doctor or therapist.

It is important to get the proper diagnosis if you are suffering from a labral tear so further damage is not done to the joint. Be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before attempting any exercises or treatment.

Contact us for a free consultation to manage a labral tear or for ways to prevent one.

Hear from one of our patients about healing their shoulder labrum tear!

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