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What is a Labrum Tear?

A labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilage around the edge of the joint surface of a bone. In anatomy the term labrum is used to designate a lip, edge, or brim within a joint. You have two sets of labrums, one in each hip and one in each shoulder. So, let’s look at what these are exactly and what you can do about them.

Hip labral tear

Within the hip, the labrum lies on the inside of the socket on the pelvis, acting to cup the rounded head of the femur (thigh bone). Not only does the labrum cushion the hip joint, but it also acts like a seal or gasket to help keep the ball at the top of your thighbone safely inside the hip socket. A tear in this cartilage can occur for a number of reasons; trauma, structural abnormalities, and repetitive motions to name a few. Athletes often deal with this sort of injury especially when they participate in long distance running, as well as sports with sudden twisting or pivoting motions (i.e. golf, football, softball, basketball, dance, hockey).

Often hip labral tears don’t cause sudden symptoms, but rather are more subtle in their onset. When symptoms do occur, they include pain in your hip/groin which worsen when sitting for long periods of time, a locking/clicking sensation in your hip joint, and stiffness or limited range of motion in your hip.

Hip labral tears can increase your likelihood of developing osteoarthritis of that hip at some point in the future. The good news is, you can condition the surrounding muscles with strength training as well as flexibility exercises to help prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Shoulder labral tears

The shoulder labrum is located in the socket part of the joint located at the edge of the shoulder blade, acting to cup the ball-shaped head of the humerus (upper arm bone). Your rotator cuff (compiled of 4 muscles) helps the labrum keep the ball in the socket which allows your upper arm to go through a wide range of motion safely. Traumatic injuries such as falls, as well as repetitive motions, can put too much strain on this area resulting in a tearing of that labrum. Shoulder labral tears are more common than those in the hip, simply because the one in the hip is stronger and the shoulder typically goes through a much larger range of motion on a regular basis. The most common type of labral tear is a SLAP (superior labrum, anterior to posterior) tear which means it is torn from the front to the back. This is common in tennis players, baseball players, and anyone who uses a lot of overhead arm motions. A Bankart tear is when the damage is to the lower half of the labrum. It’s not quite as common and while it can be due to overuse, it’s more often associated with traumatic injuries such as those from a car accident, a fall, etc. A Posterior Labrum tear is rather rare and again, most commonly associated with some sort of traumatic injury.

A shoulder labral tear is often painful, both with activity and during periods of rest. You may feel like your shoulder joint is catching, locking, popping, or even grinding. You may have a decreased range of motion and loss of strength as well. The best preventative measures to take in this situation is again strengthening the muscles, along with proper stretching to keep your range of motion normalized.

Often, with both hip and shoulder labral tears treatment starts with over the counter anti-inflammatory meds, along with physical therapy. If that doesn’t work cortisone injections are next on the list, and the final step is surgical repair. Everyone’s body is different and every injury is unique, so if you find that you’ve been diagnosed with either of these conditions, talk openly with your doctor and physical therapist about the prognosis and do everything you can at home to help increase your chances of full recovery.

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