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What is a labral tear?

A labral tear is a rip in the labrum, a piece of cartilage within your shoulder socket. It plays a large role in supporting the ball and socket joint as well as various tendons and muscles, including the rotator cuff. The labrum helps keep the shoulder stable and, as a result, labral tears can often result in shoulder dislocation. 

Anatomy of the shoulder

The shoulder, the joint in the human body with the greatest field of mobility, is composed of the following:

  • Clavicle (collarbone)
  • Scapula (shoulder blade)
  • Humerus (upper arm bone)
  • Rotator cuff (group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of the upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder)
  • Bursa (a lubrication sac sitting between the humerus and the acromion, the technical name for the outward end of the shoulder blade) 

Symptoms

Symptoms of a labral tear include:

  • Pain in the shoulder during daily activities, especially when reaching overhead
  • Popping, locking, grinding or catching in the shoulder
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Instability of the shoulder joint
  • Sudden weakness in the area

Causes

Throwing athletes and weightlifters are among those most at risk for labral tears. These injuries are commonly caused by:

  • A fall on an outstretched arm
  • A blow to the shoulder
  • Lifting or pulling a heavy object with improper form
  • Grabbing onto something to stop a fall

Treatment options

Treatment for labral tear depends on the type of tear that has occurred in the shoulder. Most labral tears can be treated with nonsurgical methods, but when painful symptoms persist despite treatment, labral repair surgery could be necessary.

Nonsurgical treatment

Nonsurgical treatment for a labral tear can include:

  • Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles surrounding your rotator cuff
  • Resting the shoulder to allow healing

Surgical treatment

The different types of surgical labral repair include:

  • SLAP repair—A type of repair performed using shoulder arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure to repair various painful disorders of the shoulder such as rotator cuff tendon tears, torn ligaments and bone spurs.
  • Bankart repair—A Bankart lesion occurs when the ligaments are torn from the front of the socket. During this type of labral repair surgery, the torn labrum of the Bankart lesion is reattached to the shoulder socket.
  • Internal impingement repair—Shoulder arthroscopy is usually combined with a surgical procedure known as debridement or stabilization to correct the internal impingement. Debridement consists of removing loose tendon fragments, thickened bursae and other debris around the shoulder joint.
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