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Labral Tears

Dr. Matt Brown
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What is a labral tear?

The labrum is a piece of cartilage that runs along the rim of the shoulder or hip joint, cushioning and keeping these joints in place. Injury or overuse can cause this cartilage to pull away from the socket, producing what’s called a labral tear.

Labral tears often don’t exhibit any symptoms, which can make them difficult to diagnose. The most common symptoms are a deep ache in the affected joint, a clicking sensation when moving the joint, or weakness and stiffness in the affected joint.

A torn labrum cannot heal on its own. For this reason, surgery is commonly opted. However with physical therapy alone, patients are often able to regain a satisfactory level of function. Patients who have experienced more serious injuries will often undergo surgery, and will need to complete several months of physical therapy as part of their post-operative recovery.Source: Move Forward

Labral tear symptoms

In most cases, labral tears do not produce constant pain. They also don’t hurt immediately; the pain tends to come on slowly and gradually.

The pain that results from a torn labrum in the shoulder is usually most noticeable when the patient performs overhead tasks. Patients may also notice a ‘catching’ sensation in the shoulder. Or they will feel that the shoulder is unstable. They may experience loss of strength, or their range of motion may be negatively affected.

Similarly, labral tears in the hip often fail to show symptoms in the period immediately following the initial injury. When symptoms do appear, patients will usually experience a clicking sensation in the hip joint, pain in the hip joint, and reduced range of motion.

The most common symptoms of a labral tear include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the affected joint
  • Limited range of motion in the affected joint
  • Clicking sensation in the affected joint

Source: Mayo Clinic and WebMD

What causes a labral tear?

Labral tears occur when part of the labrum separates from the socket — usually the result of excessive trauma to the joint. Repeated twisting, running, and ‘cutting’ — motions performed in sports like soccer, hockey, and skiing — can all cause labral tears. Patients with genetic abnormalities in the bone around their shoulder and hip joints are more likely to experience labral tears.

This risk is also heightened in patients with above-average tightness or weakness in the hip or shoulder. Improper technique when performing repetitive activities can also be a risk factor.

The most common causes of a labral tear include:

  • Bony abnormalities in the joint
  • Muscle weakness or tightness
  • Participation in activities that require twisting or ‘cutting’ motions

Source: Move Forward PT

Physical therapy for labral tears

Along with surgery, physical therapy is a front-line treatment for labral tears. Your physical therapist will evaluate your medical history and perform an initial evaluation to determine the severity of your injury. After this evaluation, your PT will design a recovery plan that’s tailored to your injury and your personal needs.

Typically, this plan will include pain management, movement training, manual therapy, strength training, and re-injury prevention. Your therapist will work with you to develop strategies to move safely and painlessly while you’re in recovery. A fast and full recovery is the ultimate goal of any PT treatment for a torn labrum.

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