Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three parts: the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). The humerus fits into a round socket in your shoulder blade. Surrounding this socket is a rim of strong, fibrous tissue called the labrum. The labrum helps to stabilize the shoulder joint and serves as an attachment point for many of the ligaments of the shoulder. A SLAP tear is an injury to the labrum.
The term SLAP stands for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. In a SLAP tear, the top part of the labrum is injured —the superior labrum. This top part of the labrum is where the bicep tendons attach to the labrum. A SLAP tear occurs both in front and back of this attachment point —anterior and posterior. In some cases, the bicep tendon can be involved in the injury.
SLAP tears can be caused by acute trauma or by repetitive shoulder motion. Injuries may be a result of a motor vehicle accident, fall onto an outstretched arm, pulling of the arm or shoulder dislocation. Athletes who practice in repetitive overhead sports —throwing athletes or weightlifters—are at risk for labrum tears as a result of repetitive shoulder motion. However, many SLAP tears are the result of the natural wearing down of the labrum over time. Patients who are over the age of 40 experience labrum tears as a result of the normal process of aging.
Symptoms of a SLAP tear include the sensation of locking, popping, catching or grinding in the shoulder joint, pain with movement of the shoulder, pain when lifting objects overhead, decrease in shoulder strength, decreased range of motion, or a feeling that the shoulder will “pop out of joint.”
SLAP tears are usually treated non-surgically with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Doctors usually recommend a physical therapy program for 3 to 6 months, involving flexibility and range of motion exercises.