A SLAP tear is an injury to a part of the shoulder joint called the labrum. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint, similar to the hip; however, the socket of the shoulder joint is extremely shallow, and thus inherently unstable. To compensate for the shallow socket, the shoulder joint has a cuff of cartilage called a labrum that forms a cup for the end of the arm bone (humerus) to move within.
A specific type of labral tear is called a SLAP tear; this stands for Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior. The SLAP tear occurs at the point where the tendon of the biceps muscle inserts on the labrum.
How does a SLAP tear occur?
Common reasons for a SLAP tear include:
- Fall onto an outstretched hand
- Repetitive overhead actions (throwing)
- Lifting a heavy object
- The area of the labrum where the SLAP tear occurs is susceptible to injury because it is an area of relatively poor vascularity. Other parts of the labrum often heal more easily because the blood supply delivers a healing capacity to the area of the tear. In the area of SLAP tears this is not the case, and chronic shoulder pain can result.
What are the symptoms of a SLAP lesion?
There are several symptoms that might indicate a SLAP lesion injury. These include:
- A catching sensation, clicking or locking in the shoulder.
- Pain in the front or top of the shoulder.
- Increased pain with movement, especially with overhead activities.
- Decreased range of motion of the shoulder and arm.
- Susceptibility to dislocation.
Determining if pain is caused by a SLAP lesion is sometimes difficult because the injury often does not show up well on normal MRI scans. However a MRI scan with dye placed into the shoulder is often helpful to diagnose a labral tear. Sometimes, though, an actual diagnosis is made at the time of surgery when the orthopaedic surgeon has an opportunity to look inside the shoulder, most often during an arthroscopic surgical procedure.
How is a SLAP lesion treated?
Once a diagnosis has been made, an orthopaedic surgeon recommends the best treatment option. There are both surgical and non-surgical options, although surgery is most often needed.
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