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What Is a SLAP Tear (And How Can I Prevent One)?

We all learned in high school that your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. But did you know that the “socket” of the ball-and-socket is only in contact with a third of the ball joint? That’s like trying to grip a basketball with one hand while it’s spinning. The only reason your shoulder stays in place is thanks to a piece of cartilage known as the glenoid labrum. The “fibrocartilaginous rim” of the shoulder socket extends the depth of the socket—keeping the ball locked in place.

SLAP stands for Superior Labral Tear from Anterior to Posterior, which is a complex name for the simple injury described above. A SLAP tear threatens the stability of this rim of cartilage—which threatens the stability of your whole shoulder.

The common causes of a SLAP tear include:

  • Severe shoulder dislocation
  • Landing on your shoulder
  • Pulling your shoulder muscle while rotating
  • An unstable shoulder joint

If you have a shoulder that’s prone to dislocating, the movement across the glenoid labrum would speed up the deterioration of the rim.

How Do I Know If I Have a SLAP Tear?

SLAP tears can happen to anyone—but the risk is particularly high if you do a lot of lifting above your head. For that reason, track-and-field athletes, people in throwing sports, and homemakers are all likely to develop a SLAP tear without proper care. SLAP tear awareness has picked up in recent years thanks to public figures (notably baseball players) suffering from labrum tears.

Signs of a SLAP tear include:

  • Throbbing pain in the shoulder brought on by exertion
  • Painful shoulder dropping while lying in bed
  • Loss of strength in throwing arm

How to Prevent a SLAP Tear

Thankfully, it’s easy to prevent a SLAP tear. All you need to do is warm-up before doing any throwing or overhead lifting. Frequent shoulder stretches and gentle exercises promote the stability of the whole system, which can help compensate for a weak or damaged labrum. One of the most important things you can do to prevent glenoid labrum tears is learning how to fall correctly.

Many people fall onto their shoulders when they slip. If you train yourself to fall on the muscular part of your upper back (while keeping it curved), it’ll go a long way toward keeping your shoulders intact.

 
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