Do you have persistent shoulder pain that won’t seem to heal on its own or respond to pain medication? Maybe you fell onto your outstretched arm or shoulder or work in a job where you lift heavy objects over your head. These are just a few of the scenarios that could indicate you’ve suffered a very specific type of injury to your shoulder known as a SLAP tear.
SLAP, an acronym for superior labrum, anterior to posterior, refers to the labrum, a ring of strong tissue circling the shoulder socket that provides stability to the shoulder and keeps the arm bone firmly in the shoulder socket. Although many times a tear to the labrum can be treated with physical therapy and managing pain symptoms, some cases require surgery.
Manhattan orthopedic shoulder surgeon, Dr. Francis Mendoza, will evaluate your symptoms to determine if you have a labral tear and will explain all of the available treatments, including SLAP repair surgery.
What causes a SLAP tear?
A SLAP tear occurs when an injury to the shoulder causes the labrum to tear or fray.
You may suffer a SLAP tear if you:
- Fall onto an outstretched arm
- Fall onto your shoulder
- Use an outstretched arm to brace yourself in an auto accident
- Suddenly and repeatedly lift heavy objects over your head
- Throw a baseball or participate in other athletic activities where you make repetitive overhead motions
If you have a SLAP tear, you could also have other shoulder injuries, such as a rotator cuff tear.
What are the symptoms of a SLAP tear?
There are many specific and non-specific symptoms of a SLAP tear.
Specific symptoms include:
- Catches, pops and clicking sounds in the shoulder
- Pain when lifting your arm above your head or throwing a ball
Non-specific symptoms that could be a SLAP tear or another injury include:
- Weakness or instability in the shoulder
- An aching shoulder pain that is difficult to pinpoint its exact location
What are the treatment options for a SLAP tear?
The first step in SLAP tear treatment is to try physical therapy and use pain medication to alleviate the problem. NSAIDs, or anti-inflammatory medication, are effective in treating this kind of pain. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Ibuprofen and naproxen are popular choices.
Physical therapy usually includes a series of exercises to stretch the back of the shoulder and to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff. Your physical therapist will thoroughly explain all of the necessary exercises so that you can continue to do them at home.
At home, you can use ice or heat to treat the SLAP tear by applying an ice pack or heating pad for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Wearing a sling is also effective in reducing severe pain by supporting and immobilizing the arm.
For some patients, the only effective treatment is SLAP repair surgery. Using an arthroscope, a doctor can get an up-close look at the injury while performing repair work at the same time.
What are the types of SLAP repair surgeries?
Two methods are currently in use to perform SLAP repair surgery:
- Labral Repair Surgery uses staples, sutures and anchors to repair the unstable shoulder. Using an arthroscope, the doctor can see the tear using a small camera. The procedure is performed through small incisions, which reduces recovery time. A larger tear to the labrum may require a more invasive open procedure. Each technique is effective in repairing tears and restoring full strength and movement. Depending on the type of procedure, recovery time varies, but usually takes several months.
- SLAP Lesion Surgery is an outpatient procedure that takes as little as 90 minutes. This procedure also uses an arthroscope that allows the doctor to make repairs through tiny incisions in the shoulder. This technique requires a follow up of six to 12 weeks of physical therapy to make sure the joint heals correctly.
Where can I be evaluated for SLAP repair surgery in NYC?
Dr. Francis Mendoza is an orthopedic surgeon based in New York City who specializes in elbow and shoulder conditions. He also specializes in the treatment of arthritis of the shoulder and elbow, and sports injuries.
Dr. Mendoza is a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and has been recognized as a leading shoulder surgeon in New York City by Castle Connolly. He has held the position of Director of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and teaches residents and orthopedic surgeons the latest advanced surgical techniques.
If you believe you may have a SLAP tear and want to find out if you’re a candidate for SLAP repair surgery, call Dr. Mendoza’s offices at 212-628-9600 or fill out the form on his home page to make an appointment today.