Olympian Overcomes Labral Tear Injury

American diver Kassidy Cook is ready to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after enduring her share of setbacks, including a tear to her labrum (a piece of cartilage in the shoulder that helps secure the top of the upper arm bone).

Labral tears are common in athletes that participate in repetitive, overhead sports. See Treating Acute Sports and Exercise Injuries in the First 24 to 72 Hours

Cook, a 21-year-old athlete from Texas, missed qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games by a slim margin (.42 points), endured surgery for a torn meniscus in her knee, and overcame two surgeries for her labral tear. These challenges haven’t deterred this Olympian, who will participate in the women’s 3-meter springboard event.

See Knee Surgery for a Torn Meniscus

Labral tears (also called SLAP tears) can result from overuse, causing the labrum to wear down over time. This injury can occur as you age, but labral tears are most common in athletes—especially those participating in repetitive, overhead sports like baseball, swimming, or weightlifting. They can also occur in divers, as evidenced by Cook.

Learn more: SLAP Tear Causes and Risk Factors


Labrum Tear Symptoms

If you suspect a labral tear, there are a few symptoms you need to know about, including:

  • Deep pain in your shoulder. You’re in pain, but cannot specify the exact location. This is a common symptom, which is usually felt in the back of the shoulder. Sometimes pain is felt at the front of the shoulder, if the injury involves the biceps tendon.
  • Decline in athletic performance. You may have a decreased range of motion in your shoulder, making reaching and overhead activities difficult or impossible.
  • Shoulder movement is painful. Hitting a tennis ball or lifting an object overhead is painful, as are some arm positions such as stretching your arm behind your head, throwing a baseball, or lifting an object.
  • Shoulder weakness. You may feel unsteady, as though your shoulder will “pop” out. You may also notice a decrease in shoulder power, perhaps even a "dead arm" sensation.

See Diagnosing Shoulder Labral Tears

You may also feel clicking and popping sensations in your shoulder—as Cook reportedly did, which prompted her second shoulder surgery. Indeed, detecting a labral tear can be difficult because these symptoms are similar to other shoulder injuries, such as a rotator cuff or biceps injury. For this reason, an MRI scan is often performed to confirm the diagnosis.

See Labrum Tear Treatments

Recovery time from a labral tear varies, but you should expect it to take several months. However, as Cook has demonstrated, patience and persistence pay off. She's recovered from her surgeries and is set to compete in her first Olympic event on August 12.

See Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery

Learn more:

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tears

Amy Haddad is a former Veritas Health editor. She developed content and wrote blogs about sports injuries, risk factors, and treatment options.