A 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.
Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula), and your collarbone (clavicle).
The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid. Surrounding the outside edge of the glenoid is a rim of strong, fibrous tissue called the labrum. The labrum helps to deepen the socket and stabilize the shoulder joint. It also serves as an attachment point for many of the ligaments of the shoulder, as well as one of the tendons from the biceps muscle in the arm.
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:
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 30 to 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 younger person.
The common symptoms of a SLAP tear are similar to many other shoulder problems. They include:
Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms and when they first began. If you can remember a specific injury or activity that caused your shoulder pain, it can help your doctor diagnose your shoulder problem — although many patients may not remember a specific event. Any work activities or sports that aggravate your shoulder are also important to mention, as well as the location of the pain, and what treatment, if any, you have had.
During the physicial examination, your doctor will check the range of motion, strength, and stability of your shoulder.
He or she may perform specific tests by placing your arm in different positions to reproduce your symptoms. Your doctor may also examine your neck and head to make sure that your pain is not coming from a “pinched nerve.”
The results of these tests will help your doctor decide if additional testing or imaging of your shoulder is necessary.
X-rays. This imaging test provides clear pictures of dense structures, like bone. The labrum of the shoulder is made of soft tissue so it will not show up on an x-ray. However, your doctor may order x-rays to make sure there are no other problems in your shoulder, such as arthritis or fractures.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This test can better show soft tissues like the labrum. To make a tear in the labrum show up more clearly on the MRI, a dye may be injected into your shoulder before the scan is taken.