The typical symptoms associated with SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) tears, also referred to as labral tears, are akin to other shoulder problems. In general, a SLAP tear patient complains of deep shoulder pain, decrease in sports performance and pain with certain shoulder movements. Symptoms tend to intensify with certain types of activity, such as lifting objects overhead or throwing.


Symptoms of SLAP tears can include:

  • Pain when moving or keeping the shoulder in specific positions. Certain shoulder activities, such as lifting objects overhead, throwing a baseball or hitting a tennis ball, may cause pain. Other causes of pain include holding the shoulder in certain positions. Examples include: extending the arm to lift an object, stretching the arm behind the head or placing the arm in a throwing position.
  • Decline in sports performance. Athletes may notice a decline in sports performance, including a decrease in shoulder power, and could describe a “dead arm” sensation.
  • Reduced range of motion. Patients may find a reduced range of shoulder motion: difficulty with reaching movements, and the inability to throw or engage in overhead activity with the arms.
  • Discomfort when lifting items, particularly overhead. A weightlifter, for example, may feel pain when lifting weights overhead.
  • Difficult to identify shoulder pain. Deep, aching shoulder pain is a widely cited SLAP tear symptom, yet it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact location. Pain is commonly felt at the back of the shoulder; if the SLAP tear includes the biceps tendon, pain may be felt at the front of the shoulder.
  • Locking, popping, clicking or grinding in the shoulder. While these are general complaints that may apply to a variety of shoulder injuries, SLAP tear patients may also cite popping, clicking, grinding or locking sensations in the shoulder.
  • Shoulder weakness. SLAP tear injuries can cause feelings of unsteadiness, as though the shoulder will “pop out” of its socket.

It is difficult to identify a SLAP tear by symptoms alone. An MRI is usually performed if a SLAP tear is suspected, but arthroscopic surgery is the best way to confirm this 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.