How to Treat, Prevent and Fix a Shoulder Labrum Tear

That painful, clicking feeling in your shoulder when you swim? It might be a labrum tear.

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That painful, clicking feeling in your shoulder when you swim? It might be a labrum tear. Fix and prevent it with these home remedies.

A labrum tear is characterized by pain in the shoulder, especially with overhead exertion; a clicking or grinding sensation, and possibly locking of the joint; and weakness and/or joint instability.

Some background on your labrum: The ball-and-socket joint that joins the humerus and the scapula has a very shallow socket called the glenoid socket. Thick cartilage called the labrum rims that socket, surrounding and protecting the ball of the humerus and allowing the joint to move freely. Cartilage on the end of the humerus works with the labrum to give you a smooth-functioning joint. Certain tendons, like the biceps tendon, attach to the labrum as well.

There are different kinds of labrum tears: fraying of the labrum (generally asymptomatic); above the midpoint of the glenoid socket (superior labrum tear); below the midpoint (inferior tear); and a superior tear that involves the biceps ligament is a SLAP (superior labrum from anterior to posterior) lesion.

What causes labrum tears? Repetitive motion (think baseball pitchers and freestyle swimmers); a sudden pull on the arm, such as when lifting a heavy weight; an explosive reaching motion; a direct impact to the shoulder; a fall on an outstretched arm.

Fix It

See a doctor. Any shoulder pain—especially when caused by an acute injury, like a fall—needs to be evaluated by a sports doctor.

Employ dynamic rest. Lay off the upper-body work and use lower-body workouts to maintain fitness.

Ice it. Ice applied to the shoulder for 15 minutes several times a day can help reduce inflammation.

Try an NSAID. An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen can help with the pain.

Start rehabbing. As the pain improves, do some rotator cuff exercises to help strengthen your shoulder. Here are two.

Shoulder Squeeze #1: Lie facedown on an exercise bench. Hold your arms out to your sides parallel to the floor, bent at 90 degrees with your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Now try to raise your elbows toward the ceiling and feel your shoulder blades squeezing together. Hold for a moment and return to the starting position. Do 10 to 20 reps depending on your strength.

Shoulder Squeeze #2: While lying facedown on the bench, hold your arms along your sides with your palms up. Keeping your arms straight, lift your palms toward the ceiling, again feeling your shoulder blades squeeze together. Hold for a moment and return to the starting position. Again, do 10 to 20 reps.

Prevent It

Work the shoulder both ways. Having a strong, balanced shoulder is the best injury-prevention strategy, and the muscles in and around the shoulder respond well to exercise. Shoulder work must be a staple of your upper-body workouts, and you must work opposing muscle groups to avoid an imbalance. That means, for example, that if you do a pushing exercise such as bench presses or overhead presses, you need to do an equivalent amount of pulling movements, such as rowing and pull-ups.

When to See a Doctor

See a sports doctor immediately for any shoulder pain. Labrum tears show up on MRIs, but having one doesn’t necessarily mean surgery. The key is to make your symptoms go away. If they go away, you can exist just fine with a labrum tear, and generally, conservative, home-based therapies can relieve symptoms.

New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 33-time marathon finisher and 13-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.

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