A Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior (SLAP) tear is an injury to the labrum of the shoulder, which is the ring of cartilage that surrounds the socket of the shoulder joint.
The term SLAP stands for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. In a SLAP injury, the top (superior) part of the labrum is injured. This top area is also where the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum. A SLAP tear occurs both in front (anterior) and back (posterior) of this attachment point. The biceps tendon can be involved in the injury, as well.
Injuries to the superior labrum can be caused by acute trauma or by repetitive shoulder motion.
An acute SLAP injury may result from:
- A motor vehicle accident
- A fall onto an outstretched arm
- Forceful pulling on the arm, such as when trying to catch a heavy object
- Rapid or forceful movement of the arm when it is above the level of the shoulder
- Shoulder dislocation
- People who participate in repetitive overhead sports, such as throwing athletes or weightlifters, can experience labrum tears as a result of repeated shoulder motion.
Many SLAP tears, however, are the result of a wearing down of the labrum that occurs slowly over time. In patients over 40 years of age, tearing or fraying of the superior labrum can be seen as a normal process of aging. This differs from an acute injury in a person under the age of 40.
The common symptoms of a SLAP tear are similar to many other shoulder problems. They include:
- A sensation of locking, popping, catching, or grinding
- Pain with movement of the shoulder or with holding the shoulder in specific positions
- Pain with lifting objects, especially overhead
- Decrease in shoulder strength
- A feeling that the shoulder is going to “pop out of joint”
- Decreased range of motion
- Pitchers may notice a decrease in their throw velocity, or the feeling of having a “dead arm” after pitching
In many cases, the initial treatment for a SLAP injury is nonsurgical. Treatment options may include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
Physical therapy. Specific exercises will restore movement and strengthen your shoulder.
Flexibility and range-of-motion exercises will include stretching the shoulder capsule, which is the strong connective tissue that surrounds the joint. Exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder can relieve pain and prevent further injury. This exercise program can be continued anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and usually involves working with a qualified physical therapist.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if your pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods.
Arthroscopy. The surgical technique most commonly used for repairing a SLAP injury is arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into your shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments.
Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery.