Joint Knowledge: Labral Tears

The joints in the hip and shoulder have a very similar structure. These joints look like a ball and socket where the arm or leg attaches to the torso. The labrum is the soft tissue that covers the socket of the joint. Tears in this area can be caused by injury, degenerative issues, or structural problems.


What Causes Labral Tears?

Labral tears can have a wide range of causes, one of the most common being direct injury to the area. Repetitive or high-impact movements, such as those involved in football, soccer, golf, hockey, or baseball can cause trauma to the area.

Individuals with structural ailments that cause abnormal hip movements can be subject to labral tears. This can include conditions like femoroacetabular impingement, which prevents the head of the leg bone from fitting into the hip socket properly.

Osteoarthritis can also wear down the cartilage between joints, making it more prone to tearing.


Signs and Symptoms of Labral Tears

The symptoms of a labral tear in the hip can include pain and stiffness throughout the joint. You might feel unsteady on your feet. The hip joint may make a clicking or locking noise when you move. You may also experience pain in the buttocks or groin.

A torn labrum in the shoulder may lead to shoulder pain and instability. Some people may experience a grinding or catching feeling when they move the shoulder. The symptoms vary depending on the type of labral tear it is, and its severity.

There are two main types of labral tears to the shoulder. Bankart tears are usually associated with dislocated shoulders. They are most common in younger athletes. SLAP tears occur at the front of the arm where the shoulder connects to the biceps tendon. Volleyball players, baseball pitchers, and other athletes who engage in high-energy motions over the top of the shoulder are prone to these.


Who Gets Labral Tears?

People who play sports, particularly those that involve explosive movement, can be at risk for labral tears. Tennis and golf both involve large swings that can put strain on the shoulders. Football and soccer can cause labral tears in the hips.

Labral tears become more common in people who suffer from arthritis. The thinning of the tissue makes it more delicate.

People who have existing joint irregularities can also suffer labral tears.

However, these injuries can happen to anyone. A labral tear can be the result of slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk or tripping and falling on the stairs.


Treating Labral Tears

Labral tears can typically be treated without surgery. Physical therapy that stretches and strengthens hip muscles can help relieve pain and increase the range of movement. Your doctor may be able to show you specific exercises that can help the area.

A Bankart tear with dislocation can usually be treated by popping the joint back into place.

Rest and ice can help relieve pain and, in the case of minor injuries, can even allow the area to heal.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve any swelling and can reduce pain.

Treatment for labral tears typically starts with these conservative methods. If the injury is severe or doesn’t heal on its own, your doctor may wish to discuss surgically repairing the tear.


How to Prevent Labral Tears

Not all tears can be prevented. In the case of an unexpected injury, such as tripping on an uneven sidewalk, may be impossible to anticipate.

Many athletes, as well, find that tears are hard to prevent. This is because they may not be able to properly anticipate the force of a movement that leads to injury.

However, the Mayo Clinic says that improving the strength and flexibility of the muscles around the joint can help reduce the incidence of labral tears. Dedicate time to strength training in your legs, arms, and core to help keep joints stable.

The good news is that, with the right course of treatment, most people with labral tears experience at least a future to 80% of their pre-injury level of play. By taking recovery slow, and following doctor’s orders, people who suffer labral tears can heal, feel relief, and get back to the sorts of activities that they enjoy.


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