This injury is common in the news as it keeps professionals athletes out of action for a long time. In 2017 Hyun-jin Ryu of the Dodgers, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Jimmy Nelson of the Milwaukee Brewers all spent extended periods of time watching from the sidelines as a result of a shoulder labral tear. But it’s not just professional athletes that are sidelined by the injury and many people need to undergo what is known as Arthroscopic Labral Repair of the Shoulder or SLAP for short.
Many people suffer from shoulder pain, either brought on suddenly by falling on the shoulder or an outstretched hand or slowly and over time by repetitive strain. Many of these injuries are painful because they cause damage to the labrum of the shoulder joint. The labrum is a portion of soft and fibrous tissue that sits in the glenoid (this is the area of the shoulder joint that joins the bone of the upper arm called the humerus with the shoulder blade and the collarbone). This labrum has a number of functions. Firstly, it allows the joint to move freely and easily without the burns rubbing together (which can be painful). It also acts as a sponge, absorbing shocks taken to the joint. Patients with damage the labrum experience pain when lifting the shoulder and they often have a decrease in the range of movement they are able to achieve. This can be very disabling as the shoulder joint is in constant use in day to day life.
How are should labral tears repaired?
This type of injury often requires surgery to fully recover. The surgery is done arthroscopically to reduce the risk of infection and to provide a faster healing time. Arthroscopic surgery refers to a procedure that is done with a tiny camera instead of opening the entire joint up. This means a much smaller cut is made into the shoulder joint and allows healing to occur a lot faster. The surgeon will then repair the shoulder using small instruments and the small camera inside the shoulder.
After the surgery is complete the shoulder will need to be placed in a sling so it can heal for three-six weeks. During this time the patient is told to perform a number of passive exercises (meaning they get somebody else to move their arm and do not do it under their own power). After the sling is removed the patient will be told to do a number of exercises every day to restore proper muscle power and tone. This is done before the patient returns to strenuous activities like sports.
In some individuals who play sports at a high level the repair is unsuccessful and they may experience some pain or loss of performance for years after. However, on a day to day activities carried out by most patients, an Arthroscopic Labrum repair of the shoulder is a highly successful procedure.