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A torn labrum is a common injury that can cause significant shoulder pain and discomfort.
Whether it’s the result of a sudden injury or repetitive strain, a torn labrum can severely impact daily activities and even hinder your athletic performance.
However, the good news is that it doesn’t always require shoulder surgery and with the right exercise program and rehab techniques, you can effectively manage the symptoms of a labral tear to help you regain strength and mobility to the affected shoulder socket joint.
Recommended Reading – 11 Best Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Exercises For Shoulder Tears
In this article, we’ll explore a series of strengthening exercises for a torn labrum which are specifically designed to target the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.
In time, these exercises can help to reduce muscle weakness helping to support an unstable shoulder joint to provide pain relief.
What Is A Torn Labrum
Your shoulder joint is one of the most mobile in your body, even more than the hip joint, and is made up of a ball and socket which allows for a very wide range of motion.
The labrum is a small ring of cartilage that covers the entire socket helping to cushion the joint and provide stability, essentially keeping the ball and socket together.
A torn shoulder labrum is when the edge or rim of the cartilage has sustained an injury causing shoulder instability and muscle imbalances which often results in pain and discomfort.
This is because the joint is moving in ways that it isn’t supposed to.
There are different types of labrum tears such as slap tear, anterior tear, and glenoid labral tear etc. and they each reference different locations to where the injury has taken place.
They don’t just affect the shoulder joint either.
A hip labrum tear can also be quite common and is very often caused by femoroacetabular impingement syndrome.
A shoulder labrum injury can also cause other injuries such as rotator cuff tears where physical therapy treatment will most likely be recommended.
What Causes A Torn Labrum
Shoulder labrum tears typically occurs due to a combination of factors, ranging from sudden trauma to certain repetitive work activities.
Sports-related injuries, such as falls, collisions, or forceful overhead repetitive motions like hitting a golf ball, are common culprits, particularly in activities like football, baseball, or tennis.
These high-impact activities can put you at higher risk of developing this type of injury causing the rim of the shoulder socket to tear or fray.
However, it’s not just certain sports that can lead to a torn labrum.
Everyday activities that involve repetitive overhead movements, like painting, throwing, or lifting heavy objects, can gradually wear down the labrum over time, increasing the risk of injury.
What’s more, structural abnormalities in the shoulder joint, such as shoulder impingement or instability, can make you more predisposed to developing labral tears even with seemingly minor movements.
In order to get a proper diagnosis for a shoulder labrum tear it’s important to seek advice from your health care provider who may recommend an MRI scan to properly diagnose the condition and determine the severity of the injury.
Different treatments will depend on how severe the tear is and can range from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs through to surgery in the most severe cases.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Torn Labrum
A torn labrum in the shoulder can show itself by way of several different symptoms, each of which can significantly impact your daily life and physical activity.
Here are some common signs to look out for:
Persistent or sharp pain in the shoulder joint, particularly during certain movements or activities, is the first key symptom of a torn labrum.
The pain may be localized to the front, back, or deep within the shoulder, depending on the location and severity of the tear.
A feeling of instability or “looseness” in the shoulder joint is often reported by individuals with a torn labrum.
It’s often reported that it feels as though the shoulder is “slipping” out of place, especially during overhead movements or when lifting heavy objects.
Reduced Range of Motion
Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint is another common symptom of a torn labrum.
Individuals may find it challenging to raise their arm overhead, reach behind their back, or perform tasks that require full shoulder mobility.
Clicking or Popping Sensation
Some people with a torn labrum may notice a clicking, popping, or grinding sensation in their shoulder joint, especially during certain movements.
These sounds or sensations may indicate friction or instability within the joint.
Weakness in the Shoulder
Muscle weakness or a feeling of “arm heaviness” is another common symptom noticed by people with a torn labrum.
This weakness may make it difficult to perform common daily activities or take part in certain sports and exercise.
Best Exercises For Torn Labrum
Below are some easy to follow physical therapy exercises that you can do 3 to 4 times per week, to help alleviate the symptoms associated with a torn labrum.
Before undertaking any of them, please seek appropriate advice from a medical professional.
Shoulder External Rotation with Resistance Band
This exercise specifically targets the rotator cuff muscles, including the muscles surrounding the torn labrum, helping to improve stability and support in the shoulder joint.
- Anchor a resistance band to a fixed object at around elbow height.
- Stand side on to the band and take hold of it with the hand of your affected shoulder keeping your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your forearm parallel to the ground.
- Keeping your elbow tucked in at your side, externally rotate your shoulder to pull the band away from your body. The further you pull your hand away the more tension should be created in the band.
- Slowly return to the starting position and perform three sets of between 8 and 10 repetitions.
Scaption exercises target the muscles that help stabilize the shoulder joint while minimizing stress on the labrum.
This can help improve shoulder strength and function.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a light dumbbell in each hand.
- With your palms facing inward, raise your arms forward and upward at a 45-degree angle to the front of your body.
- Keep your arms straight but not locked and raise them to shoulder height.
- Lower the weights back down with control and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Wall slides help improve shoulder mobility and strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, including the torn labrum.
They’re also a great way of relieving tension in your neck and shoulders and relaxing your upper trapezius muscles.
- Stand with your back against a wall and your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your arms back against the wall with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your palms facing forward.
- Slowly slide your arms up the wall as far as comfortable, maintaining contact with the wall.
- Hold for a moment at the top, then lower your arms back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Prone Row with Resistance Band
This exercise targets the muscles of your upper back and shoulders, helping to improve posture and stability in the shoulder joint.
When starting out simply hold the band in both hands.
When you want to create an additional challenge, hook the band under your feet before taking hold of it.
This will help to increase tension in the band making it a little more difficult.
- Lie face down on the ground while holding a resistance band with both hands.
- Keep your arms extended out in front of you and head and upper chest away from the floor. Take care not to strain your neck.
- Pull the band towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Slowly return the band back to the starting position and then repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Isometric Shoulder External Rotation
Isometric exercises help strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint without placing excessive stress on the torn labrum.
- Stand or sit with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your forearm resting against a table or wall.
- Place a small rolled-up towel between your elbow and your body for support.
- Push the back of your hand outward against the resistance, engaging the muscles of the rotator cuff.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax and repeat for several repetitions.
Are There Exercises To Avoid With A Torn Labrum
While certain exercises can be beneficial for rehab purposes, some movements and forms of exercise can exacerbate symptoms and potentially worsen a torn labrum.
Here are some exercises to avoid (or modify) if you have a torn labrum:
Exercises like the overhead press, whether you perform them with dumbbells, barbells, or resistance bands, can place excessive strain on the shoulder joint and potentially aggravate a torn labrum.
Avoid lifting weights overhead until the injury has healed or modify the movement to reduce stress on your shoulder.
Pulling weights behind your neck, such as in behind-the-neck pull-downs, can cause the shoulder joint to move into an unnatural position.
This can place excessive stress on the joint and increase the risk of impingement which may cause further damage to the torn labrum.
Try and stick to front-facing variations of pull-down exercises instead.
Bench Pressing with Wide Grip
Bench pressing with a wide grip can put a lot of stress on your shoulder joint, especially if your elbows flare out to the sides.
This can lead to shoulder impingement and discomfort if you’re suffering from a torn labrum.
Consider using a narrower grip which will put more emphasis on your triceps or alternative chest exercises that won’t exacerbate shoulder pain.
Upright rows involve lifting weights close to the body while pulling the elbows up towards the ceiling.
While it’s a great exercise for developing your shoulders, the movement can compress the shoulder joint and worsen symptoms of a torn labrum, particularly if performed with heavy weights or poor form.
Dips are a very challenging exercise that involve lowering and raising your body weight while suspended between parallel bars.
This movement can place significant stress on the shoulders, potentially aggravating a torn labrum.
Avoid dips or use caution when performing them, ensuring proper shoulder alignment and avoid going too deep.
High-impact exercises like running, jumping, or plyometric exercises can jolt the shoulder joint and increase any pain and discomfort associated with a torn labrum.
While in recovery, choose low-impact exercises or activities that don’t place excessive strain on the shoulders during the healing process.
Can A Torn Labrum Heal On Its Own
In the case of minor labral tears, the body can often repair the damage over time which can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks.
Conservative treatment including rest and suitable pain medication while avoiding activities that aggravate the shoulder can allow the tissue to heal sufficiently to restore function and alleviate pain.
More significant tears, particularly those that affect the shoulder’s stability or involve detachment of the labrum from the bone, are less likely to heal adequately on their own.
These situations often require surgical intervention to reattach the labrum and ensure the joint’s stability and function.
In either case, a proper diagnosis should always be sought by a doctor or other medical professional.
Dealing with a torn labrum is not always straightforward, but understanding more about the condition, its causes, symptoms, and the road to recovery can help you to navigate this challenge effectively.
Remember, the key to a successful recovery lies in early diagnosis, understanding the extent of the injury, and taking a proactive approach towards rehabilitation.
While some injuries may heal with conservative treatments such as labral tear shoulder exercises along with plenty of rest, others may require surgical intervention to restore full function and stability to your shoulder.
It’s important to avoid activities that can make the condition worse and to follow a tailored exercise regimen that promotes healing without risking further injury.