Shoulder labral tear

Man with shoulder pain

​An unstable shoulder joint can be the cause or the result of a labral tear. The labrum in your shoulder is a ring of cartilage that lines the outer rim of your shoulder joint socket. Acting like a rubber seal, the labrum helps stabilize the shoulder. A hard blow to the shoulder, a fall or a sudden pull on the shoulder can cause a labral tear. It can also result from repetitive overuse, such as weightlifting, baseball or tennis.  

Shoulder labral tear symptoms

For many people, a shoulder labral tear does not cause any symptoms. However, if the tear progresses, it may become painful. 

Labral tear symptoms include:

  • Limited range of motion 

  • Feeling of instability—like the shoulder is “coming out of the socket”  

  • Pain that occurs at night or during everyday activities 

  • Popping, grinding or catching in the shoulder 

  • Weakness

Shoulder labral tear diagnosis

Your doctor will review your health history and perform an exam that places your shoulder in various positions. 

Diagnostic tests to determine a labral tear are: 

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a radiology technique that uses a tube surrounded by a giant circular magnet to take images of body structures. The patient is placed on a moveable bed that is inserted into the magnet. 

  • X-rays—an imaging test that uses electromagnetic radiation with very high frequency and energy.

Shoulder labral tear treatment 

In many cases, a labral tear will heal with nonsurgical treatments. Depending on the severity of your labral tear, your treatment plan may include: 

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications—medicine that helps manage the pain associated with inflammation.

  • Physical therapy—treats stiffness, muscle weakness and pain using exercises to strengthen and improve range of motion in the shoulder.  

  • Rest—avoiding certain activities to give the shoulder time to heal. 

  • Surgery—arthroscopic surgery is the most common surgical technique.

Think your shoulder pain might be a labral tear? See one of our orthopedic specialists at The Christ Hospital Health Network for diagnose and treatment.

Find a shoulder specialist near you.