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Pain Management Health Center

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Shoulder SLAP Tear - Topic Overview

What is a SLAP tear?

A SLAP tear is a specific kind of injury to your shoulder.

To help make your shoulder more stable, there is a ring of firm tissue, called the labrum, around your shoulder socket. The labrum (say "LAY-brum") helps keep your arm bone in the shoulder socket.

SLAP stands for "superior labrum, anterior to posterior"-in other words, "the top part of the labrum, from the front to the back." It refers to the part of the labrum that is injured, or torn, in a SLAP injury camera.gif.

What causes a SLAP tear?

The labrum frays or tears because of an injury. You may get a SLAP tear if you:

  • Fall on your outstretched arm.
  • Fall on your shoulder.
  • Brace yourself with your outstretched arm in a car accident.
  • Lift heavy objects repeatedly or too suddenly.
  • Do a lot of overhead activities, such as throwing a baseball.

This injury was first identified in the 1980s in athletes, like baseball players, whose sport requires them to do a lot of overhead throwing.

Many people with SLAP tears also have other shoulder injuries, such as a tear in the rotator cuff.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a SLAP tear may include:

  • Popping, clicking, or catching in the shoulder.
  • Pain when you move your arm over your head or throw a ball.
  • A feeling of weakness or instability in the shoulder.
  • Aching pain. People often have a hard time describing or pointing to exactly where the pain is.

How is a SLAP tear diagnosed?

A SLAP tear can be hard to identify, because there are so many other things that can cause shoulder pain and because SLAP tears are not common. Ways to diagnose a SLAP tear include:

  • A series of tests in which your doctor moves your shoulder joint around to see which movements are causing your pain.
  • MRI. A special dye is injected into your shoulder before you have an MRI scan. When a dye is used, the test is called an MRI arthrogram.
  • Arthroscopic surgery. This is the only sure way to know whether you have a SLAP tear. Your doctor will make small cuts, called incisions, in your shoulder. Then he or she can look at the inside of your joint by inserting a tiny camera attached to a thin tube. The doctor may be able to repair the tear at the same time.
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