The glenoid (socket) is surrounded by a ring of fibrous cartilage called the labrum, which helps deepen the socket and assists in stabilization of the shoulder joint. The long head of the biceps tendon attaches inside the shoulder joint at the superior labrum of the shoulder joint. It is a long cord-like structure that attaches the biceps muscle to the shoulder and helps to stabilize the joint.

What are SLAP Tears?

The term SLAP (superior –labrum anterior-posterior) lesion or SLAP tear refers to an injury of the superior labrum of the shoulder, in the region of the biceps tendon attachment.

What are the Causes of SLAP Tears?

The most common causes include falling on an outstretched arm, repetitive overhead actions such as throwing and lifting a heavy object with the arm outstretched. Overhead and contact sports may also put you at a greater risk of developing a SLAP tear.

What are the Symptoms of SLAP Tears?

The most common symptom is pain at the top of the shoulder joint or felt deep inside the shoulder joint. In addition, a catching sensation and pain most often with activities such as throwing may also occur. Pain can often be referred along the line of the biceps tendon and down the arm.

How are SLAP Tears Diagnosed?

Diagnosis can sometimes be made based on the symptoms and a physical examination. A regular MRI scan may not indicate a SLAP tear and therefore an MRI with a contrast dye injected into the shoulder is usually ordered. The contrast dye helps to highlight SLAP tears. However often the diagnosis cannot be made until the time of surgery. This is because there are many normal anatomic variants at the site where the biceps tendon attaches, and these can often look like a SLAP tear on MRI.

What are the Treatment Options for SLAP Tears?

  • Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications or an injection of cortisone to control pain and strengthening exercises to improve the shoulder mechanics are generally recommended. However, in patients with ongoing pain and other symptoms arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder may be recommended.
  • Depending on the type and severity of the lesion and the age of the patient, SLAP tears may simply require debridement or some may need to be repaired. A SLAP repair can be performed using arthroscopic techniques that require only two or three small incisions.

Other Shoulder Conditions