The shoulder is the most mobile but least stable joint in the body. Because it’s used repetitively by throwing athletes, special attention should be paid to maintaining its strength, health, and function. In order to prevent injuries, it’s important that athletes educate themselves. One of the most common injuries sustained by throwing athletes is a SLAP tear of the soft tissue, known as the labrum, that helps hold the shoulder in place.

shoulder, Shoulder Labrum Tears in Throwing Athletes

Illustration 1- A SLAP tear

SLAP Tears

A SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) tear is a serious injury that sidelines athletes for an extended period of time. In some cases, it can be treated with physical therapy. However, in most, it requires surgical intervention. Recovery is physical therapy intensive and can take 8-12 months.


The injury usually occurs during the ‘follow-through phase’ of the throwing motion. After the athlete releases the ball, stress is placed on the shoulder as it quickly decelerates. If the muscles of the shoulder are weak, due to muscle imbalance or overuse, the shoulder can dislocate, tearing the labrum.

shoulder, Shoulder Labrum Tears in Throwing Athletes

Illustration 2- SLAP tears usually occur during the follow through (fourth picture) of the throwing motion

Signs and Symptoms

The following signs might be indicative of a SLAP tear:

  • Locking, catching, popping, and/or grinding of the shoulder
  • Inability to effectively throw
  • A shoulder dislocation
  • Decreased range of motion

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Joint laxity

Swelling and numbness can also occur.


Orthopedic surgeons are the most qualified medical professionals to diagnose SLAP tears. Their diagnostic process usually includes:

  1. Taking a detailed medical history. Determining how and why the injury occurred provides diagnostic clues.
  2. Performing a thorough physical exam. Symptoms that present with certain movements or positions helps diagnose the injury.
  3. Analyzing medical imaging studies. X-rays and MRIs help confirm the diagnosis.

Once a patient has been diagnosed with a SLAP tear, a treatment plan is made.


As previously mentioned, SLAP tears are usually treated using surgical intervention. During the arthroscopic procedure, the specialist locates the tear and then repairs it using sutures anchors that reattach the labrum to the bone. The procedure usually takes 1-2 hours and is done on an outpatient basis.

Seeking Treatment

Athletes should never play with an injury. If your shoulder hurts or you can relate to the information in this post, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices in Duxbury or Sandwich, MA to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists. We’ll get you back on the field ASAP.

At Plymouth Bay Orthopedic Associates, our team consists of Fellowship-Trained and Board Certified Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Specialists.  Our team has extensive experience treating bone spurs in the shoulder, shoulder arthritis and injuries.  We offer a full spectrum of treatment options that include conservative treatment and Physical Therapy.  We also offer the latest advancements in arthroscopic surgery and tendon repair.  Contact our offices in Plymouth, Duxbury or Sandwich, MA to schedule a consultation with one of our experts!