What is a SLAP tear?
A SLAP tear is an injury to the labrum, a tough, rubbery cartilage ring that surrounds your shoulder’s socket. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, and the labrum’s job is to make the socket deep enough to hold the ball of the upper arm bone securely. It also works to cushion the joint, and several shoulder ligaments attach to the labrum.
“SLAP” stands for Superior Labrum, Anterior (front) to Posterior (back). It means that the labrum is torn at the top half of the shoulder socket. Because the top of the shoulder socket is where the biceps tendon attaches, a SLAP tear may include an injury to the biceps tendon as well.
Learn more about shoulder anatomy
What causes a SLAP tear?
Several things can cause a SLAP tear. They include:
- A direct hit to the shoulder
- Traumatic injury, as might happen in a car accident
- A fall, especially if you try to catch yourself with an outstretched arm
- Lifting or catching something heavy overhead
- Repetitive overhead motion, as with weightlifting or sports that involve throwing
What are the symptoms of a SLAP tear?
Common symptoms may include:
- Shoulder pain
- Shoulder instability
- A popping, clicking, or catching sensation
- Difficulty moving shoulder
- Shoulder weakness
- Shoulder dislocation
How is a SLAP tear diagnosed?
The diagnostic process starts by talking with you about your symptoms and conducting a detailed physical examination. Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays and MRI scans, can be useful for a diagnosis as well.
To be certain of the diagnosis, shoulder arthroscopy may be necessary.
How is a SLAP tear treated nonsurgically?
Many SLAP tears can be treated nonsurgically. The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and restore strength to the involved shoulder. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
What are the surgical treatment options for SLAP tears?
If a nonsurgical approach doesn’t provide satisfactory function, or if you are active and use your arm for overhead work or sports, then surgery is most often recommended because many tears will not heal without surgery.
Most of the time, arthroscopic (minimally invasive) surgery is appropriate. However, some large tears may require traditional surgery, using a longer incision to repair the torn labrum.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise
From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those that just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.
Start your journey to stronger, healthier athletic condition. Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, Plymouth, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.
More resources for you:
- Dr. Delaney explains SLAP tears
- Watch a video about SLAP tears and treatment options
- Dr. Warner discusses when to see a doctor for shoulder pain
- Review a comparison of nonsurgical treatments for shoulder pain
- Watch this video about common shoulder injuries
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Meet Reed Williams, M.D.
Reed C. Williams, M.D., M.B.S., R.M.S.K., is a physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician specializing in nonoperative sports, musculoskeletal, and diagnostic and interventional ultrasound medicine at Summit Orthopedics. He takes his role as a patient advocate, educator, and physician very seriously. He strongly believes that the art of medicine is just as important as the science behind it.