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Shoulder Labral Tear: Diagnosis and Treatment

Shoulder Labral Tear Diagnosis and Treatment
Dr. Garrett Stroup. Physical Therapist in Roseburg Area.


Dr. Garrett C. Stroup

DPT, VRC - Owner and Founder

We help athletes and active adults regain control of their injury without expensive surgeries or medications, so they can keep going.

Shoulder labral tears are a common injury that can cause significant pain and discomfort, especially among athletes and individuals involved in activities that require repetitive shoulder movements. Timely treatment and rehabilitation are crucial for a successful recovery and to prevent further complications.

In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for shoulder labral tears, as well as strategies for prevention and how Oregon Mobile Physical Therapy and Performance (OrMobility) can assist in your recovery journey.

Causes of Shoulder Labral Tears

Traumatic Injuries

Traumatic injuries such as dislocated shoulders are a primary cause of shoulder labral tears. These injuries often result from a sudden impact or forceful movement that places excessive stress on the shoulder joint. Common scenarios include falling onto an outstretched arm, direct blows to the shoulder, or shoulder dislocations. Athletes in contact sports or those involved in activities with a high risk of falls are particularly susceptible.

Repetitive Movements

Repetitive overhead activities, common in sports such as baseball, tennis, and swimming, can lead to labral tears over time. The repetitive motion places continuous stress on the upper arm bone and its supporting structures, eventually causing wear and tear on the labrum. This type of injury is often referred to as an overuse injury.

Degenerative Changes

As we age, our joints and connective tissues undergo degenerative changes. The labrum, a fibrocartilaginous structure in the shoulder, can become more susceptible to tears due to the natural aging process. This degeneration can weaken the labrum, making it more prone to injury even with minimal trauma or strain.

Anatomical Factors

Certain anatomical factors, such as variations in shoulder anatomy, can increase the likelihood of a labral tear. Variations in the shape or positioning of the shoulder bones or inherent laxity in the joint can create an environment where the labrum is more vulnerable to damage. Individuals with these anatomical predispositions should be particularly mindful of shoulder health and engage in preventive measures.

Symptoms of Shoulder Labral Tears

The symptoms of a shoulder labral tear can vary depending on the severity and type of tear. Common symptoms include:

  • Shoulder pain, especially during overhead sports activities
  • A sensation of catching, locking, or grinding in the shoulder joint
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Weakness or shoulder instability
  • Pain at night or when lying on the affected shoulder

According to Dr. Stephen Fealy at the Hospital for Special Surgery, athletes with SLAP tears often require significant recovery time. Recognizing these shoulder labral tear symptoms early and seeking prompt medical attention can prevent further damage and facilitate a quicker recovery.

Diagnosing Shoulder Labral Tears

Diagnosing Shoulder Labral Tears

Diagnosing a shoulder labral tear typically involves a combination of physical examination and imaging tests. During a physical examination, a healthcare provider will assess the shoulder’s range of motion, strength, and stability. Special tests, such as O’Brien’s test or the Crank test, may be used to provoke symptoms and help identify the presence of a labral tear.

Imaging studies are essential for confirming the diagnosis. According to research, approximately 80 to 85 percent of labrum tears due to subluxation or dislocation can be accurately diagnosed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or CT-arthrogram tests. These imaging techniques provide detailed views of the shoulder’s soft tissues, allowing for precise identification of labral tears and associated injuries. Advances in medical technology have significantly improved the accuracy and efficiency of these diagnostic tools. Understanding your medical history is crucial for diagnosing and treating shoulder injuries effectively.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Labral Tears

Treatment for shoulder labral tears can be either surgical or nonsurgical, depending on the severity of the tear, the patient’s activity level, and their overall health.

Surgical Options for Shoulder Labral Tears

Surgery may be recommended for individuals with severe labral tears, recurrent dislocations, or those who have not responded to nonsurgical treatments. The most common type of surgical procedure for labral tears is arthroscopic surgery. During this minimally invasive procedure, small incisions are made, and a tiny camera and surgical tools are inserted into the shoulder joint to guide the surgeon in repairing or removing the damaged labrum.

A structured rehabilitation program is crucial for restoring shoulder function and strength weeks after surgery. Physical therapy plays a vital role in this process, helping patients regain their range of motion and address shoulder stiffness through personalized rehabilitation exercises. In cases of severe injury, where there are torn ligaments or damage to the joint capsule, comprehensive rehabilitation is essential for full recovery.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Nonsurgical treatments are often effective for managing labral tear shoulder injuries, especially for those with less severe injuries or those who are not candidates for surgery. Anti-inflammatory medication and pain medications can help manage pain and reduce inflammation.

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE)

The RICE method is a standard approach for managing acute injuries. Resting the shoulder, applying ice to reduce inflammation, using compression to minimize swelling, and elevating the arm can help alleviate pain and promote healing.

Pain Management With Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help manage pain levels and reduce inflammation. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered to provide more substantial relief.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a cornerstone of nonsurgical labral tear shoulder treatment. A skilled physical therapist will design a personalized exercise program to strengthen the shoulder muscles, improve range of motion, and enhance joint stability. This is especially important in cases where a labral tear is accompanied by muscle weakness or a torn flap. These motion exercises are crucial for promoting healing and preventing future injuries.

Rehabilitation and Recovery

Rehabilitation and recovery from a shoulder labral tear require a comprehensive approach. Whether treated surgically or nonsurgically, patients must adhere to a structured rehabilitation program to regain full function of the shoulder. This includes progressive exercises to restore strength, flexibility, and stability. The duration of recovery varies depending on the severity of the tear and the individual’s adherence to the rehabilitation protocol. Proper rehabilitation can help restore the superior labrum and improve the function of the shoulder blade.

Preventing Shoulder Labral Tears

Preventing shoulder labral tears involves a combination of proper warm-up, technique, strength training, and adequate rest.

Warm-Up and Stretching

A thorough warm-up and stretching routine is essential before engaging in any physical activity. This prepares the shoulder muscles and joints for the demands of the activity, reducing the risk of injury.

Technique and Form

Proper technique and form are crucial in preventing shoulder injuries. Athletes and individuals involved in repetitive overhead movements should receive proper training to ensure they are using the correct mechanics and not placing undue stress on the shoulder.

Strength and Conditioning

Regular strength and conditioning exercises can help build the muscles around the shoulder, providing better support and stability. Focus on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles of the upper back and chest to maintain a balanced and strong shoulder joint.

Rest and Recovery

Adequate rest and recovery time between activities are essential to prevent overuse injuries. Listening to your body and allowing time for proper recovery can help avoid chronic shoulder issues.

How OrMobility Physical Therapy & Performance Can Help

How OrMobility Physical Therapy & Performance Can Help

At OrMobility Physical Therapy & Performance, we specialize in diagnosing and treating labral tear shoulder injuries. Our team of experienced physical therapists uses evidence-based techniques to develop personalized surgical treatment and proper treatment plans that address your specific needs and goals. Whether you require post-surgical rehabilitation or nonsurgical management, we are committed to helping you achieve optimal shoulder function and return to your favorite daily activities.


Shoulder labral tears can significantly impact your quality of life, but with timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you can achieve a successful recovery. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for managing this injury effectively. At OrMobility Physical Therapy & Performance, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive care to help you recover and prevent future injuries.


Is a labral tear serious in the shoulder?

A labral tear can be serious, depending on its severity and impact on shoulder function. It is essential to seek medical evaluation and treatment to prevent further damage and promote healing.

Can a shoulder labrum tear heal without surgery?

Many shoulder labral tears can heal without surgery through nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy, rest, and pain management. However, severe tears may require surgical intervention.

How do you fix a labral tear in the shoulder?

Labral tears can be treated with either surgical or nonsurgical methods. Nonsurgical treatments include physical therapy, rest, and pain management, while surgical options involve arthroscopic repair of the damaged labrum. A personalized treatment plan should be developed based on the individual’s specific condition and needs.

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