SLAP Tear (Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior Tear)

SLAP tears are serious shoulder injuries that can interfere with your ability to do normal activities. This article will explore what a SLAP tear is and how they are typically treated.

Overview of a SLAP tear

A SLAP tear occurs when the inner ring of cartilage in the shoulder joint, called the labrum, is torn. SLAP stands for superior labrum anterior and posterior and refers to an injury to the top part of the labrum where the shoulder joint rests.

The shoulder joint is composed of the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) that rests in the socket of the shoulder blade (glenoid). The labrum is a thick band of cartilage tissue that surrounds the rim of the shoulder socket and stabilizes the joint. The biceps tendon attaches to the top of the labrum and is also sometimes affected in a SLAP tear injury.

A strong force can cause the labrum to tear at the top near where the biceps tendon attaches. These tears can be painful but vary in severity depending on the nature of the injury. As a result, the injury often makes the shoulder joint less stable and can interfere with the shoulder’s movement.

Causes of a SLAP tear

SLAP tears can result from repeated stress to the shoulder joint. Sports that involve frequent forceful overhead movements, like tennis or throwing, can lead to a higher risk of SLAP tears because of the repetitive strain on the joint that can tear the labrum.

Older adults are also more likely to suffer SLAP tears due to age-related wear-and-tear on the shoulder joint. Aging can wear down the labrum and make it more susceptible to tearing.

Acute injuries can also lead to SLAP tears if there is a significant force to the shoulder or arm from falling or getting into an accident that strains the shoulder. The force of the injury can tear the labrum, especially if the arm is outstretched or overhead during the accident.

Symptoms of a SLAP tear

Common symptoms of a SLAP tear include

  •       Pain (especially when moving the shoulder)
  •       Popping, clicking, or grinding noises from the joint
  •       Tenderness
  •       Weakness
  •       Difficulty moving the shoulder for normal activities
  •       Limited range of motion
  •       Feeling of instability in the joint

Without prompt treatment, a SLAP tear may get worse, so it’s important to seek medical attention if you experience persistent symptoms. 

Treatment for a SLAP tear

Initial treatments are typically nonsurgical. These conservative treatments include

  •       Rest and avoiding physical activity that strains the shoulder
  •       Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers
  •       Physical therapy exercises that stretch and strengthen the shoulder

In cases of more severe tears, surgery may be necessary to repair the labrum and relieve pain. Surgery to repair labrum tears is often performed arthroscopically. In this procedure, a small camera is inserted through a small incision into the shoulder and the footage is projected onto a screen in the operating room. Based on the view, a surgeon can repair the SLAP tear by removing it or reattaching it to the bone. The arthroscopic procedure is less invasive and allows the surgeon to proceed with treatment more accurately.

An orthopaedic specialist will determine the exact course of treatment based on the severity of the tear and the individual case. 

Treating SLAP tears at OAR

SLAP tears are serious shoulder injuries that can make it hard to do normal activities. Our orthopaedic specialists and surgeons are ready to find a treatment solution that will get you feeling like yourself again.

Schedule an appointment with us today to see how we can help you find relief!


Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.

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