What Are SLAP Tears and How Do They Occur?

SLAP is an acronym that stands for Superior Labrum – Anterior to Posterior and describes a type of shoulder injury involving the labrum.

The labrum is the rim of cartilage surrounding the shoulder socket that keeps the shoulder joint's ball in its proper position. It also serves a cushioning role for the bones in the joint, a connective part for tendon and ligaments, and provides a full range of motion in the shoulder.

SLAP tears are common injuries for athletes that participate in sports involving overhead movements. Repeated throwing motions can gradually wear down the labrum and lead to a tear in the upper part where the biceps tendon connects. The tear takes place in the front and back of this attachment, and it's not uncommon for the biceps tendon to also be affected.

Causes and Risks

The biggest concern regarding SLAP tears for athletes is their potential to sideline a player for a prolonged period. It should be noted that non-athletes can also experience this sort of injury.

The most common causes and risk factors that lead to a SLAP tears are:

  • Repetitive overhead movements – The labrum can suffer wear and tear from activities involving this type of motion and lead to damage over time.
  • Multiple dislocations – Repeat shoulder dislocations can wear out the joint over time and lead to labral fraying or lesions.
  • Traumatic injury – Sudden or intense trauma, such as falling on an outstretched arm, rapid arm movement above shoulder level, a powerful tug on the arm, or a motor vehicle accident.
  • Normal aging – Labrum damage in individuals over 40 can be attributed to the general aging process. 

Sports that see the most SLAP tears or lesions include:

  • Baseball/Softball
  • Football
  • Weightlifting
  • Swimming