Rehabiliation of a Shoulder Labrum Tear

Physical Therapy After a Labrum Tear in the Shoulder

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A torn labrum is a problem in the shoulder that may cause shoulder pain, frequent dislocations of your shoulder, or problems with properly using your arm. Physical therapy may be necessary to help you decrease pain, improve mobility, and regain normal use of your arm after a labrum tear.


Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is at the end of your humerus, the arm bone, and it sits in the socket located at the end of your scapula, or shoulder blade. The ball is much bigger than the socket, which allows a lot of mobility to occur at your shoulder joint. This allows you to move your arms in many directions.

Since the ball is so much bigger than the socket, the shoulder is considered a very unstable joint. The ball can easily slip out of the socket, causing shoulder pain and dysfunction.

The labrum is a band of cartilage that courses around the edge of the socket in your shoulder. It serves to add depth to the socket of your shoulder joint.

Imagine your shoulder as a golf ball on a tee. The ball is much bigger than the tee and can easily roll off.

If the edge of the tee where the ball sits has a small band of tissue around it, the tee would be deeper, and the ball would be less likely to roll off. Thus, the labrum makes your shoulder socket deeper to help keep the ball in the joint.

The labrum also serves as an attachment point for other structures in your shoulder. Some of the ligaments that support your shoulder attach to the labrum. One of the two biceps tendons attaches to the top portion of the labrum in your shoulder.

Shoulder Labrum Tear Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a labrum tear
Illustration by Kelly Miller, Verywell

Since there are many muscles and ligaments in the shoulder, a torn labrum may be difficult to diagnose. Some of the signs and symptoms of a labrum tear include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Popping, grinding, or a catching sensation in your shoulder
  • Difficulty lifting your shoulder
  • A feeling that your shoulder is coming out of the joint

If you suspect that you have a torn labrum in your shoulder, you should consult with your healthcare provider. He or she can confirm the diagnosis, and the proper treatment can be started right away.


Your labrum in your shoulder can be injured in a number of different ways. These include but are not limited to:

  • Sports injuries
  • Repetitive overhead motions like throwing
  • Falling onto an outstretched hand or onto the side of your shoulder
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Repetitive lifting of heavy items
  • Forceful blow to your shoulder

Sometimes trauma causes a shoulder labrum tear. Other times, repetitive stress and strain cause your shoulder labrum to be torn.


The diagnosis of a labrum tear can be difficult because your shoulder has many small ligaments and muscles that attach around the joint.

Initially, your healthcare provider or physical therapist may perform shoulder special tests to determine if your shoulder labrum is torn. The apprehension test and relocation test are common tests to determine if your shoulder is unstable and whether a labrum tear is present.

Your practitioner may also take an X-ray if you have had a recent traumatic event that caused your shoulder problem. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your shoulder may be taken to visualize the inside of your shoulder to help determine if you have a labrum tear.

If you have had an MRI of the shoulder and it shows a labrum tear, it is helpful to know which type of labrum tear you have. The three most common types of labrum tears are:

  • Bankart tear: The Bankart tear occurs near the front and bottom portion of your labrum, and frequently occurs when your shoulder dislocates.
  • SLAP tear: SLAP is an acronym for Superior Labrum, Anterior to Posterior. This is a tear in the upper portion of your labrum where your long biceps tendon attaches.
  • Posterior labrum tear: This rare labrum tear occurs at the back of your shoulder labrum and may cause your shoulder to dislocate toward the back of your body.

Regardless of the type of labrum tear, if you suspect you have one, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Physical Therapy

If you have suffered a labrum tear, your healthcare provider may refer you to physical therapy. There, your physical therapist will evaluate and assess your condition to help formulate a plan of care to treat your labrum.

Acute labrum tears may be quite painful, and your physical therapist may provide you with treatments to control your pain. Heat, ice, or electrical stimulation like TENS may be used to help decrease your pain.

Caution should be used with these passive modalities; many studies indicate that active involvement in your care is the best form of treatment.

Sometimes your shoulder becomes tight after an acute labrum tear. Your physical therapist may help you work on restoring normal range of motion (ROM) on your shoulder.

Care should be taken not to be too aggressive here. A torn labrum usually causes your shoulder joint to be unstable, and aggressive ROM therapy may cause your shoulder to come out of joint.

Since a torn labrum may cause your shoulder to be unstable, exercises to improve strength and stability around your shoulder are an essential part of your rehabilitation. Exercise after a labrum tear may be required.

Exercises to increase shoulder strength should focus on the muscles collectively called the rotator cuff. These four muscles surround your shoulder and help to keep your shoulder in place when you move your arm.

Strengthening the muscles around your shoulder blade and in your arm may also help to provide stability to your shoulder after a labrum tear.

Proprioception is your body's ability to recognize where it is in space. Exercises to improve the proprioception around your shoulder may be included in your treatment. Plyometric exercises may also be included in your rehabilitation program, especially if you are planning on returning to high-level sports and recreation.

After a labrum tear in your shoulder, you should expect to return to normal activity in about six to eight weeks.

If you are not making progress with physical therapy, you may need more aggressive treatments like shoulder surgery. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about your condition to understand what to expect.

A Word From Verywell

A shoulder labrum tear can be a painful injury that limits your ability to use your arm normally. It may cause your arm to feel weak or unstable. Physical therapy can help increase the strength and mobility in your shoulder to help you return to normal activity quickly and safely.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shoulder joint tear (glenoid labrum tear).

  2. Varacallo M, Mair SD. Superior labrum anterior posterior (SLAP) lesions. StatPearls.

  3. Varacallo M, Mair SD. Biceps tendon dislocation and instability. StatPearls.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.