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Shoulder Joint Tear

Last updated Jan. 13, 2019

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

A Shoulder Joint Tear is when the cartilage (the labrum) surrounding the shoulder socket tears.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Glenoid Labrum Tear
  • Labral Tear
  • Torn Labrum of the Shoulder

What is Shoulder Joint Tear? (Definition/Background Information)

  • The shoulder joint is made up of three different bones, the shoulder blade (scapula), the collar bone (clavicle), and the upper arm bone (humerus). The humerus fits into a socket within the shoulder blade, called the glenoid
  • A Shoulder Joint Tear is when the cartilage (the labrum) surrounding the shoulder socket tears. It is also known as Torn Labrum of the Shoulder
  • Such injuries are very painful and may be the result of any sudden or violent physical activity, or due to overuse of the shoulder. This may include normal daily activities that require repetitive use of the shoulder muscles, or athletic sports

Who gets Shoulder Joint Tear? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • The risk of a Shoulder Joint Tear increases with age. Both men and women are equally susceptible to the condition
  • Individuals performing certain occupations, athletes participating in any sports, all involving repetitive motions, are at an increased risk of the shoulder injury

What are the Risk Factors for Shoulder Joint Tear? (Predisposing Factors)

Factors that increase the risk of a Shoulder Joint Tear:

  • Athletics: Individuals, who participate in sports that require a lot of repetitive shoulder movements, such as baseball, tennis, weightlifting, golf, etc. have a higher risk of sustaining a Shoulder Joint Tear
  • Occupations: Occupations that involve a lot of physical activity (heavy lifting, handling of machines/equipment), such as construction, industrial work

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Shoulder Joint Tear? (Etiology)

A Shoulder Joint Tear may occur due to a sudden violent physical activity, or due to a gradual wear and tear of the muscles and cartilage, due to overuse. A few causal factors include:

  • Sports-related injury: Individuals participating in certain sports activities that require a set of repetitive movements for prolonged periods, such as baseball or tennis
  • Sudden lifting or pulling: Use of a sudden force to pull or grab an overhead object can cause a Shoulder Joint Tear, by putting a tremendous amount of stress on the tissues surrounding the shoulder joint
  • Fall injuries: A direct fall hurting the shoulder, or falling with an outstretched arm, are some of the other causes

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Joint Tear?

The symptoms are usually mild at the beginning and do not warrant immediate medical attention. There could be a noticeable pain associated with any activities that involve lifting the arms above one’s head/shoulder. The signs and symptoms of a Shoulder Joint Tear include:

  • Feeling of looseness in the shoulder
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder
  • Weakness, loss of shoulder strength

How is Shoulder Joint Tear Diagnosed?

Some of the tests a physician may use to help diagnose a Shoulder Joint Tear include:

  • Physical examination with complete evaluation of medical history
  • X-rays: X-rays use radiation to produce images of the shoulder. This can help your physician rule-out other possible causes for shoulder discomfort, such as a fracture
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI is a detailed scan in which, a magnetic field and radio waves are together used to produce images that allow a physician to view any damage to the bones and soft tissues around the shoulder joint
  • Computerized tomography (CT): A CT scan takes images of bones and soft tissue, such as ligaments, that connect the joint together. This allows a physician to examine the extent of the injury

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Shoulder Joint Tear?

Complications due to a Shoulder Joint (or Glenoid Labrum) Tear may include:

  • Osteoarthritis: If the shoulder joint is completely torn, arthritis may develop in the shoulder joint
  • Recurrence of injury
  • A Shoulder Joint Tear may restrict or limit the range of motion in the shoulder, severely affecting one’s work

How is Shoulder Joint Tear Treated?

Nonsurgical treatment:

  • Any activity that aggravates the shoulder condition should be avoided. The physician may advise the individual to refrain from participating in any physical activities, till the pain or symptoms get better
  • Applying ice to the shoulder/arm can help reduce pain and swelling
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Certain medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can help reduce mild to moderate pain, within the shoulder
  • Physical therapy: After the signs and symptoms have abated, it is important to begin some light motion exercises. Physical therapy may help restore strength, as well as improve flexibility, in the muscles
  • Steroid injection: If conservative measures (rest, medications, and physical therapy) do not relieve pain, a localized anesthetic or cortisone injection can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain

Surgical treatment: If nonsurgical treatments are not helpful, surgical treatment may be recommended. Common surgical procedures may include:

  • Arthroscopy: Arthroscopic surgery is a moderately invasive surgical intervention that is used to repair the shoulder joint using small surgical instruments. These instruments are inserted through a small incision within the shoulder

How can Shoulder Joint Tear be Prevented?

In individuals with a history of Shoulder Joint Tear, a daily stretching exercise program may help reduce the chances of its recurrence. It is also important to incorporate exercises (into one’s activities) to help strengthen the shoulder. A few other ways would include:

  • Avoid any repetitive lifting or pulling (especially overhead) of objects that are heavy
  • In sports, learn the correct techniques and avoid poor (overhead) throwing techniques

What is the Prognosis of Shoulder Joint Tear? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Individuals with Shoulder Joint Tear, usually make a full recovery, if correct physical therapy is administered
  • However, those with a more severe condition may experience recurrence of the symptoms, even after physical therapy has been completed. The duration for a complete recovery may be prolonged

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Shoulder Joint Tear:

The ball and socket joint at the shoulder, allows the arms to move in several directions, making it the most flexible joint of the human body.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 4, 2013
Last updated: Jan. 13, 2019