Get back to living freely: Physical therapy for a torn shoulder labrum

Woman holding shoulder in pain from torn labrum

Your shoulder is a complex system with multiple working parts. One of these parts is the shoulder labrum. When torn, it can feel like it’s “catching” or popping and can cause pain. Physical therapy for a torn shoulder labrum can help.

The labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilage surrounding the shoulder joint socket. It’s the attachment point of many shoulder ligaments as well as a bicep tendon. The labrum helps deepen the shoulder socket and stabilize the shoulder joint.

There are multiple places that your labrum can tear. When it tears (typically due to a traumatic incident or repetitive wear and tear), it rips away from your shoulder socket. 

In this article, we discuss symptoms of a torn shoulder labrum, possible causes and how physical therapy can help you get back to living life freely.

Symptoms of a torn shoulder labrum

Shoulder labrum tear symptoms include:

  • Locking, popping, catching or grinding. Some people may feel like their shoulder is going to pop out of joint.
  • Pain with moving or holding certain positions.
  • Sense of instability. Sometimes, there is damage to the shoulder in addition to the labral tear. It may result in your shoulder feeling loose and unstable, especially if your rotator cuff is damaged. (Learn more about symptoms and causes of rotator cuff tears in this blog).
  • Pain with lifting, especially overhead.
  • Decrease in strength and range of motion.

Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, give us a call today for a free consultation.

Common causes and risk factors of labrum tears

A shoulder labrum tear can be due to an acute trauma or repetitive shoulder motion, such as:

  • Car accident
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Forceful pulling of the arm (like when trying to catch a heavy object)
  • Rapid/forceful movement of the arm when it’s above shoulder level
  • Shoulder dislocation

Factors that increase the risk of tearing your labrum include:

  • Aging and general wear and tear. Over time, the labrum wears down slowly. Experiencing a labrum tear is a normal process of aging.
  • Participating in repetitive overhead sports (like throwing or weightlifting).

How shoulder labrum tears are diagnosed

To diagnose a shoulder labrum tear, our physical therapists check your strength and range of motion and shoulder stability.

Your arm may be moved into different positions to reproduce symptoms and so we can assess if the movement is too much, too little or balanced. Your neck and head will be examined to rule out a pinched nerve. (Learn more about pinched nerves in your shoulder and neck in this blog.)

In most cases, a thorough examination is all that’s needed to begin physical therapy for a labrum tear. However, if another condition is suspected or your physical therapist wants a better view of your labrum, we’ll order an MRI or arthroscopy, which is a minimally invasive procedure used as a diagnostic and therapeutic technique.

How a shoulder labrum tear is treated

Here at Excel, we work to improve your shoulder’s range of motion while still protecting other areas that are healing. Our shoulder physical therapy treatment plans are personalized to your needs and take a holistic approach.

In addition to treating your shoulder labrum tear, we also work to improve posture, rotator cuff strength and shoulder blade muscle control, as well as your rotator cuff’s stability and timing. Your treatment plan may include working on mobility in the upper back, chest and shoulder too. We’ll focus on improving control in any areas that are unstable.

Our physical therapists work closely with orthopedic surgeons and will refer you if necessary. If you need surgery, physical therapy can help you return to full function. It’s important to see a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) after surgery, as they are specifically trained in treating labral tears. Your DPT will make sure you’re correctly progressing after surgery

Schedule an appointment today to get a personalized treatment plan designed to help heal your shoulder labrum tear as fast as possible.

Get back to normal—and beyond

When you schedule an appointment at Excel Physical Therapy, we take a holistic approach to your physical exam. We not only assess your injury, but also your everyday activities and what may have caused it. Our goal is to get the full picture so we can design an individualized treatment plan as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating labrum tears in the shoulder.

After your assessment, we develop a physical therapy plan for specific to your shoulder condition. Many of our patients find success with a combination of therapy appointments and at-home exercises. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to reduce pain and swelling.

Once your shoulder labrum tear begins to heal, you’ll want to take steps to avoid tearing it again. We will discuss:

  • How to warm up before activities
  • Staying mindful of slippery surfaces that could cause a fall
  • Shoulder therapy exercises to keep your muscles (including your rotator cuff) strong and stable
  • How to properly fall while playing sports

While initial treatment is non-surgical, if your pain doesn’t improve, referral to an orthopedic surgeon may be recommended for further evaluation to determine the best treatment option.

It’s time to return to your normal activities—but also get in a healthier place than you were right before your injury happened.

Set up an appointment today for a personalized treatment plan designed to help you get back to living life the way you want to.