Does your shoulder “lock” when you move it? Is it sore and difficult to move? Does it seem unstable? If so, these are the symptoms of a labrum tear. The labrum is the curved cartilage that sits in the shoulder’s ball-and-socket joint. When it is torn, it can cause pain and instability in the shoulder.
The labrum is cartilage that sits against the glenoid, which is the rounded socket of the shoulder. It cushions the glenoid from the head of the humerus or upper arm bone. The labrum is vital because the ligaments of the shoulder attach to it, providing stability for the shoulder. The labrum also supports the muscles and the tendons of the rotator cuff, which is made up of the tendons that surround the shoulder and help keep it in place. With all these critical functions, damage to the labrum can cause significant issues for the shoulder.
A labrum tear can cause your shoulder to become dislocated. In other words, the humerus head can pop out of the joint, rendering the shoulder difficult to move or completely immobile. That’s why it’s essential to diagnose and treat a labrum tear as soon as possible before further damage takes place.
There are two main types of labrum tears: a SLAP tear and a Bankart tear.
A SLAP tear stands for a tear from the “superior labrum from anterior to posterior.” That means the tear runs from the front of the upper arm back toward the glenoid, where the tendon holding the bicep connects to the shoulder. This type of tear is common in athletes, particularly those who snap their shoulders, such as baseball pitchers.
A Bankart tear occurs when a patient dislocates their shoulder and the material around the joint pulls on the lower part of the labrum, tearing it. This is common in younger patients who dislocate their shoulders. The tear can cause the shoulder to dislocate repeatedly or more efficiently.
A labrum tear can be treated in minor cases by resting the shoulder and taking anti-inflammatory painkillers. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be necessary. You will need physical therapy to help strengthen the shoulder and prevent further dislocation.
If physical therapy doesn’t improve the shoulder, surgery may be necessary to repair the labrum. Surgery usually can be done arthroscopically, which allows for shorter recovery times. Still, recovery will include physical therapy to regain mobility and strength in the shoulder. Full recovery can take six months to a year, depending on the severity of the injury.