In most cases, the initial treatment for a SLAP injury is nonsurgical.
Nonsteroidal 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 treating 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 video monitor, 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.
Treatment options.There are several different types of SLAP tears. Your surgeon will determine how best to treat your SLAP injury once he or she sees it fully during arthroscopic surgery. This may require simply removing the torn part of the labrum, or reattaching the torn part using sutures. Some SLAP injuries do not require repair with sutures; instead, the biceps tendon attachment is released to relieve painful symptoms.
Your surgeon will decide the best treatment option based upon the type of tear you have, as well as your age, activity level, and the presence of any other injuries seen during the surgery.
Complications. Most patients do not experience complications from shoulder arthroscopy. As with any surgery, however, there are some risks. These are usually minor and treatable. Potential problems with arthroscopy include infection, excessive bleeding, blood clots, shoulder stiffness, and damage to blood vessels or nerves.
Your surgeon will discuss the possible complications with you before your operation.
Rehabilitation. At first, your shoulder needs to be protected while the repaired structures heal. To keep your arm from moving, you will most likely use a sling for 2 to 6 weeks after surgery. How long you require a sling depends upon the severity of your injury and the complexity of your surgery.
Once the initial pain and swelling has settled down, your doctor will start you on a physical therapy program that is tailored specifically to you and your injury.
In general, a therapy program focuses first on flexibility. Gentle stretches will improve your range of motion and prevent stiffness in your shoulder. As healing progresses, exercises to strengthen the shoulder muscles and the rotator cuff will gradually be added to your program. This typically occurs 6 to 10 weeks after surgery.
Your doctor will discuss with you when it is safe to return to sports activity. In general, throwing athletes can return to early interval throwing 3 to 4 months after surgery.
The majority of patients report improved shoulder strength and less pain after surgery for a SLAP tear.
Because patients have varied health conditions, complete recovery time is different for everyone.
In cases of complicated injuries and repairs, full recovery may take several months. Although it can be a slow process, following your surgeon’s guidelines and rehabilitation plan is vital to a successful outcome.