Treating SLAP Tears in the Shoulder
posted by Mitchell Larsen, MD | May 15, 2019
SLAP is an acronym that stands for “superior labrum, anterior to posterior.” It refers to both the location and the direction of the injury. A SLAP tear is a specific type of shoulder injury that affects the labrum, which is a protective ring of tissue that keeps your shoulder stable.
Chronic SLAP tears result from wearing down these tissues over time. People over 40, for example, may experience a SLAP tear as a part of the aging process. However, SLAP tears can also result from an acute injury, such as a fall or a shoulder dislocation.
SLAP tears also occur often in athletes who perform repeated overhead motions, such as weightlifters and baseball players. People who perform repetitive overhead arm motion for their jobs, such as painters or construction workers, are also at risk of developing a SLAP tear from overuse.
Treatment options for a SLAP tear vary based on the cause and severity of the tear. Some people require surgery to repair a SLAP tear, while others are able to recover successfully with nonsurgical treatment, including physical therapy and medications.
Your doctor may first ask you to avoid using your shoulder to see if that improves your pain. To that end, he or she may immobilize your shoulder in a sling.
In addition to conservative pain-relieving measures, such as anti-inflammatory medication, rest, ice or heat, your doctor may recommend that you undergo physical therapy exercises. By stretching your shoulder capsule, strengthening the muscles in your shoulder, and improving range of motion and flexibility, these exercises can help you prevent future injury as well as improve your discomfort.
If your injury does not respond to these treatment methods, surgery may be necessary.
Most orthopedic surgeons use a surgical technique called arthroscopy to repair a SLAP tear. Instead of making one large incision, arthroscopy involves several small incisions around your shoulder, which the surgeon uses to insert an arthroscope—a small camera that allows the doctor to look inside your shoulder. The surgeon will evaluate your shoulder using the arthroscope and decide how best to treat your SLAP tear. Depending on the nature of the injury, the surgeon may repair the torn portion with stitches or remove it altogether.
One advantage of arthroscopy over open surgery is that the recovery time is much less. However, you will still have to go through physical therapy for several months to fully rehabilitate your shoulder before you can return to your normal activities. Your doctor can assess the cause of your shoulder pain and recommend treatment options.
“Shoulder SLAP Tear.” Cigna.
“Slap Tears.” OrthoInfo, by the American Academy of Orthoapedic Surgeons.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.