I hurt my arm lifting heavy objects. Is it a SLAP tear?

I recently hurt my arm lifting some heavy objects. I self-diagnosed online – as you do – and think it might be a SLAP tear. What is this? And could it be anything else?

25 April 2012

A SLAP tear – also known as a SLAP lesion – is a tear to the lining of cartilage that protects the shoulder joint where the bicep tendon attaches. Slap stands for Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior.

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, and one of the most mobile joints in your body. It needs muscles, ligaments and this lining of cartilage – the labrum – to keep it stable when you move it. This means that if you damage the cartilage, you can also affect the muscles in the shoulder.

SLAP tears are usually caused by a fall or injury, although some can be down to wear and tear. They are also often seen in young people who play overhead sports, such as netball.

Symptoms include aching and pain when you move your shoulder.

Treatment usually involves an operation to reattach the cartilage to the joint. This is usually done under general anaesthetic, using keyhole surgery or through a small cut.

You will need to wear a sling for 2-6 weeks after your operation, including in bed. You can only remove the sling for physiotherapy exercises and your daily hygiene. You will be given pain medication to help with any discomfort after the operation, and cold compresses can also help.

You will need physiotherapy, but the amount of support will depend on your case and what activity you want to return to.

You won’t be able to drive for around 4-6 weeks, or until you can safely control your car. Most people will be comfortable within six to 12 weeks after surgery.

A SLAP tear is a much less common injury than damage to the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder, which you may have done instead.

Tennis elbow is also a common problem. You may be suffering from that if you have been using your forearm and wrist more than usual to compensate for the loss of shoulder function.

We would advise you see your doctor or physiotherapist to determine the exact nature of these two problems. It is likely that you will need a course of physiotherapy treatment and a rehabilitation exercise programme to obtain the best long term resolution of these injuries.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

Further Reading

Shoulder pain


The best ways to look after your joints

Got a health question?

We’re here to help you take care of your health - whenever you need us, wherever you are, whether you're an AXA PPP healthcare member or not.

Our Ask the Expert service allows you to ask our team of friendly and experienced nurses, midwives, counsellors and pharmacists about any health topic.