Athletes engaging in repetitive throwing or overhead sports are at risk of developing a SLAP tear, or a labral tear in the shoulder joint. But it is also possible for this injury to occur in non-athletes.


There are three underlying SLAP tear causes and risk factors:

  • Chronic Injury. Athletes participating in repetitive overhead sports—including baseball, softball, swimming and weightlifting—are at risk of developing a SLAP tear over time. The labrum, or cartilage, progressively wears down because of repeated actions. Consequently, a SLAP tear can occur.
  • Acute Injury. Acute or sudden trauma can also cause this injury. Falling on an outstretched arm is a typical example. Others include pulling on the arm powerfully or quickly moving the arm when it is over shoulder level. 1 SLAP tears. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Website. Updated August 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016.
  • Aging. Tearing or fraying labrum can develop as part of general aging, and is not uncommon in people over 40 years old.

While SLAP tears can occur as a general part of the aging process and wear and tear over time, as well as acute traumatic events, this type of injury is rare. By far the most common cause of SLAP tears is sports injury.

Dr. Terry Gemas is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Lakewood Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Dallas, TX. He specializes in sports medicine and has been in practice for more than 15 years. Dr. Gemas has treated professional athletes and currently serves as the head team physician for several Dallas-Forth Worth area high school, college, and club teams.