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Best Exercises for a Shoulder Labral Tear

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 22, 2020

The labrum is a narrow piece of cartilage that attaches the humerus bone to the shoulder socket. It is also where other ligaments come together to support the ball-and-socket joint, along with the rotator cuff, tendons, and muscles. It is a crucial component of your shoulder, providing strength and stability to your entire arm.

When your labrum tears, it can lead to not only pain and discomfort but also to partial or complete shoulder dislocation. The two most frequent labral injuries are SLAP (Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior) tears and Bankart tears.

Exercises that stretch and strengthen the shoulder have been shown to effectively decrease pain and disability.

Consult your doctor, however, before taking on any exercise regimen if you have a labral tear in your shoulder.

Exercises to Help a Shoulder Labral Tear

If you receive a medical diagnosis of a labrum tear, your doctor will usually recommend surgery and physical therapy. There are, however, exercises that you can do before having surgery to assist with recovery or even prevent the need to have surgery.

Here are seven exercises that aim to strengthen the shoulder and its supporting muscles:

Wall Stretches

  1. Stand facing a wall, six inches away.
  2. Lean forward with your hands above your head and rest your arms against the wall.
  3. Gently lean your body forward, crawl your hands up the wall, and hold for 20 seconds.
  4. Perform three times.

Lateral Raises

  1. Stand with your arms at your side.
  2. If possible, use a lightweight (1 to 5 pounds), extend your arms up and away from your body to shoulder height, hold for five seconds, then release.
  3. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Lying Down Shoulder Flex

  1. Lie on your side — hurt shoulder toward the ceiling — with your hips and knees slightly bent.
  2. If possible, use a lightweight (1 to 5 pounds), extend your arm straight and parallel with your body, and raise it toward the ceiling.
  3. Raise your arm toward the ceiling and hold at a 45-degree angle for five seconds, then release.
  4. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. 

 External Rotation Diagonal Up

  1. Anchor a resistance band at knee level to a sturdy pole.
  2. Stand to the side with your hurt shoulder opposite the side where the band is anchored.
  3. Reach across the front of your body and pull the band up and above your shoulder, hold for five seconds, then release back down.
  4. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

External Rotation 90 Degrees

  1. Anchor a resistance band at shoulder level to a sturdy pole.
  2. Stand in front of where the band is anchored.
  3. Pull the band up and over your shoulder, extending it forward away from your body, and hold for five seconds, then release.
  4.  Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Cross-Body Stretch

  1. Lie on your side ­— hurt shoulder toward the ground ­— with your hips and knees slightly bent. 
  2. Extend your lower arm out perpendicular to your body.
  3. With your other hand, reach across your body and grab your opposite elbow.
  4. Pull upward until you feel a slight stretch, hold for 30 seconds, then release.
  5. Perform twice.

Prone Row to External Rotation

  1. Lie face down on a bed or couch where you can hang your arm down loosely.
  2. If possible, use a lightweight (1 to 5 pounds) and bring your arm up to your side and hold for five seconds.
  3. Raise your arm toward the ceiling as far as comfortably possible and hold for another five seconds, then release to the ground.
  4. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Safety Considerations

These and other exercises are meant to relieve pain, not cause it. You should feel a mild to moderate stretch only. If any of the above exercises causes or increases pain, decrease your level of effort or number of repetitions until it stops hurting.

If the pain continues, stop doing the exercises, place an ice pack on your shoulder, and take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). If the pain gets worse, you should contact your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Hospital for Special Surgery: “Shoulder Labrum Tears: An Overview.”

Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: “Effects of Stretching and Strengthening Exercises, With and Without Manual Therapy, on Scapular Kinematics, Function, and Pain in Individuals with Shoulder Impingement: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: “Nonsurgical Treatment of Acetabular Labrum Tears: A Case Series.”  

Massachusetts General Hospital: “Rotator Cuff and SLAP Patient Info.”

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