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Diagnosing Shoulder Labral Tears

NYU Langone doctors are experts at diagnosing shoulder labral tears. The labrum is fibrous form of cartilage that helps keep the ball at the top of the humerus, or upper arm bone, in the shoulder socket.

The labrum is shaped like a ring and is located around the rim of the shoulder socket, also called the glenoid. The cartilage helps to deepen the glenoid and stabilize the shoulder joint. There are several types of shoulder labral tears, including some that cause the shoulder to dislocate. Tears may be partial, causing fraying of the labrum, or complete, with the labrum detaching from the bone. Tears can also involve different portions along the circumference of the labrum.

Shoulder labral tears can occur when pitching a baseball, throwing a football, spiking a volleyball, or another action involving quick overhead arm motions. A tear may also occur from a blow to the shoulder or from a fall. General wear from years of use can also make the shoulder labrum more susceptible to tears.

Shoulder labral tears may cause pain in the joint while you are performing overhead activities such as placing items on a shelf or playing sports such as basketball or tennis. You may also experience a grinding or popping noise as your move your shoulder and a decreased range of motion and strength. Untreated shoulder labral tears can lead to joint degeneration, pain, and future shoulder dislocations. Sometimes tears don’t cause any symptoms.

A shoulder labral tear is typically diagnosed through a physical exam and imaging tests.

Physical Exam

During a physical exam, your doctor asks about your symptoms and physical activities and checks the range of motion, pain, and tenderness in your shoulder. Your doctor may also listen for any grinding noise in the joint as you move your arm, which may be indicative of a shoulder labral tear. Finally, your physician performs special tests to provoke a symptom response, which helps determine what is torn in your shoulder.

Imaging Tests

Your doctor may order an MRI scan to determine whether you have a shoulder labral tear or another type of injury causing your symptoms, such as a fracture or torn rotator cuff. The scan may be accompanied by an injection of contrast dye into the joint to help detect injury to the shoulder labrum.

Our Research and Education in Shoulder Labral Tears

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.