Labral Tear of the Shoulder - Treatment & Prognosis Explained

Monday, November 30, 2015

What is the shoulder labrum?

It's a layer of thick cartilage around the edge of the shoulder socket that helps to stabilize the ball and socket joint.  It's also the place where the bicep muscle tendons and shoulder ligaments are joined.

The most common injury is called a SLAP lesion. This means a tear to the top part of the labrum at the front and the back including the biceps tendon.

What causes a labral tear of the shoulder? 

  • Falling onto an outstretched arm
  • Catching a heavy load or holding a load overhead
  • Non-SLAP tears can be caused by shoulder dislocation
  • Repetitive strain from overhead sports such tennis, netball, volleyball, basketball  

Symptoms and diagnosis

  • Pain when lifting the arms or twisting the shoulders
  • A sound like a click or a pop and a grinding sensation
  • Labral tears are usually diagnosed with clinical tests and an MRI scan. 


A surgeon can remove the damaged cartilage or simply re-attach the labrum to the shoulder socket. Following surgery it is important to restore the strength, stability and balance to the shoulder joint with special exercises.


Following surgery, physiotherapy treatment gradually strengthens and balances the shoulder using massage, manipulation, stretching and strengthening exercises.  Your therapist will help you retrain certain muscles to keep the ball joint securely anchored in the shoulder socket.

This improves shoulder stability and helps it move smoothly during all your sports and day-to-day activities. This treatment is essential if you're going to regain the full range of movement and avoid future injury to the same joint. 

Prognosis – Good!

As labral tears are often caused by repetitive movements, it's important to get your sporting technique assessed before a return to sport.  Each case is different and no-one can tell you how many weeks your healing process will take. But you'll be able to return to your sport/activity safely when your shoulder has:  

  • Regained full range of movement without pain 
  • Regained normal strength compared to the injured shoulder

Returning to your activities largely depends on your active co-operation with the physiotherapist.  For this reason it's essential that you follow the course of exercise and stretching prescribed. If you do that, I'm pleased to tell you that with good physiotherapy, most people who suffer a labral tear of the shoulder return to their activities with full use of their arm!  

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