SLAP Tears of the Shoulder and Arthroscopic Repair

A SLAP tear is the term used for an injury to the ring of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid, or socket, of the shoulder. SLAP tears can be the result of either repetitive motion or acute trauma to the shoulder joint, such as a car accident, a fall, a severe shoulder dislocation, forceful pulling on the shoulder joint, or over-the-head work that is forceful or rapid. Those at moderate risk of suffering from a slap tear include athletes who lift weights or participate in overhead throwing due to the repetitive overhead shoulder motion. Those at highest risk are over forty years old and have not suffered injury, but instead are suffering from the normal aging process.

Those with SLAP tears experience a wide range of symptoms that may indicate something is “not right” within the shoulder joint. These symptoms may include pain (especially with movement or in certain positions), popping or grinding, weakness in the shoulder, instability in the shoulder joint, a decrease in mobility or range of motion, or difficulty when lifting a moderate amount of weight. Patients experiencing these symptoms should seek evaluation from a physician to identify and treat a potential SLAP tear. Your doctor will carefully review your medical history and perform a thorough medical examination. If your symptoms and presentation are indicative of a SLAP tear, your physician will order further testing to confirm the diagnosis before proceeding. SLAP tears can be diagnosed using x-ray or MRI examinations.

Before surgery is recommended, non-surgical treatment is attempted in most cases. Non-surgical treatment used for SLAP tears includes physical therapy, at-home exercises and stretches, and anti-inflammatory medications over a period of time. If these less invasive treatments are not successful, your healthcare provider may recommend arthroscopic repair.
During arthroscopic repair, two very small incisions are made into the shoulder. Through one incision, a small probe with a camera on the end is inserted and live video is fed to a television screen in the operating room. The surgeon can then use the live video to see inside the joint and guide his instruments. Surgical instruments used to repair the tear are inserted through the other small incision. In some cases, the torn part is simply removed, while in other cases, it can be stitched together using dissolving sutures. When the surgeon has completed the repair, small sutures or surgical tape will be used to close the incisions.

There are few risks involved with arthroscopic repair, but as with all surgical procedures, some risks do apply. A very small percentage of patients may develop shoulder stiffness, blood clot, infection, or excessive bleeding. Notifying your physician of complications as soon as possible can ensure treatment is administered early.

Patients can expect to wear a sling for up to four weeks after surgery and take some time off of work. Pain medication is prescribed for approximately a week following the procedure to ensure appropriate pain management while the joint heals. Physical therapy is often necessary during the recovery process.