What are SLAP Tears?

Ernesto Luciano-Perez, MD, of Virginia Orthopaedic & Spine Specialists

Ernesto Luciano-Perez, MD, Medical Director of Bon Secours Sports Medicine

The term “SLAP lesion” was first used by Jim Andrews in 1985 to describe an injury to the superior labrum (superior labrum anterior and posterior) a cartilage layer of the shoulder joint at the superior aspect of the glenoid (shoulder socket). This injury was first identified in the 1980s in athletes, like baseball players, whose sport requires them to do a lot of overhead throwing.

SLAP lesions are a significant source of shoulder pain in sports with frequent overhead activities, such as tennis, swimming and baseball. The mechanism of injury can be both as a result of an acute injury or the result of repetitive activities. Muscle imbalances about the shoulder joint, as a result of capsular tightness or scapular dysfunction are often associated with SLAP lesions. Making an accurate diagnosis is imperative as associated pathology has to be addressed.

You may also get a SLAP tear if you:

  • Fall on your outstretched arm.
  • Fall on your shoulder.
  • Brace yourself with your outstretched arm in a car accident.
  • Lift heavy objects repeatedly or too suddenly.

Many people with SLAP tears also have other shoulder injuries, such as a tear in the rotator cuff.

The first step in treatment is to see whether pain medicine and physical therapy can take care of the problem. NSAIDs, which are anti-inflammatory medicines available over the counter, like Advil or Motrin may help the pain. Physical therapy includes taking part in a home exercise program, stretching, and avoiding activities that cause pain. If therapy at home doesn’t help, your doctor may want you to go to a physical therapist for treatment.

Recent studies have shown that conservative management of SLAP lesions can be successful, but after a trial of consecutive treatment has failed an arthroscopic repair is warranted. For many people, surgery is the only thing that helps SLAP tears. With arthroscopic surgery, the doctor can get a close look at the injury and also do some repairs at the same time.  Reattaching the tissues with bioabsorbable suture anchors have proven effective.

A strict rehabilitation program after surgery improves outcomes and maximizes the potential to return to sports.

+ Find treatment for conditions like SLAP Tears at our Bon Secours Orthopaedic Institute.
+ Read more articles about Orthopaedic Health.

Speak Your Mind