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Nonsurgical Treatment for Shoulder Labral Tears

NYU Langone doctors and rehabilitation specialists may recommend nonsurgical treatments for a shoulder labral tear, including rest, pain management, physical therapy, and injections. The type of labral tear, the severity of the tear, and your activity level influence whether you receive these therapies before your doctor discusses surgery with you.

Rest, Pain Medication, and Ice

Your doctor may recommend that you rest your shoulder, allowing time for a torn labrum to heal. You may need to avoid sports and exercise that requires you to raise your injured arm overhead and that may have contributed to your injury. Modifying daily activities such as lifting items may also be necessary.

Your doctor may suggest wearing a brace or sling to help immobilize the shoulder joint. The amount of time you need to rest, which depends on how severe the tear is, can range from several weeks to a few months.

Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help manage pain and discomfort and can bring down swelling caused by a shoulder labral tear. Applying ice to the shoulder may also reduce swelling of injured tissues. Your doctor may recommend using ice on the injured shoulder for 15 minutes, 3 times a day, for several weeks.

Physical or Occupational Therapy

Physical therapists or occupational therapists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center offer comprehensive rehabilitation plans for shoulder labral tears.

Shoulder labral tears may require up to six weeks of therapy to gradually strengthen the shoulder, arm, and back muscles. Strengthening surrounding muscles helps to unload stress placed on the labrum, allowing it to heal. Therapy may also help to stabilize the shoulder joint, relieve pain, improve range of motion and flexibility, and prevent further injury.

Therapists can teach you how to safely perform daily activities such as lifting and putting away groceries. You may also need to modify your work space to reduce stress on your injured shoulder.

If you plan to return to sports, your doctor may recommend you make an appointment at our Sports Performance Center, where specialists can refine your movements to prevent future shoulder injuries.

Corticosteroid Injections

NYU Langone’s pain management specialists offer injections of corticosteroids, which are strong anti-inflammatory medications, to relieve pain from a shoulder labral tear. Your doctor may recommend an injection after other medications have not worked to provide relief.

Corticosteroids, also called steroids, are injected directly into the shoulder, and a local anesthetic may be given to numb the area beforehand. Your doctor may use X-ray or ultrasound imaging to guide the corticosteroid injection.

Another option is to mix the corticosteroid with an anesthetic that provides pain relief for a few hours after the procedure. Shoulder pain typically returns several hours after the injection. The corticosteroid usually begins to work within two or three days.

Our doctors recommend no more than one or two corticosteroid injections over the course of one year because they may weaken soft tissues. Other side effects may include tenderness and bruising at the injection site.

Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections

If you have a superior labrum anterior and posterior tear, also known as a SLAP tear, and want to avoid surgery and other medical treatments have not worked, your doctor may discuss platelet-rich plasma injections with you. Platelet-rich liquid is made of blood cells called platelets, which contain substances called growth factors that may stimulate healing.

For this procedure, your doctor takes a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm and uses a centrifuge to separate the platelets and growth factors from other blood components. The process takes about 15 minutes. The doctor then injects platelet-rich liquid, called plasma, directly into the shoulder under ultrasound guidance.

The injection site may be sore for up to a week after treatment. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid lifting your arm or performing other movements that may irritate the shoulder area.

You may also need to avoid anti-inflammatory medications for two to four weeks after an injection. The platelet-rich plasma injection stimulates the body’s inflammatory response, an important part of healing that could be hindered if anti-inflammatory drugs are taken.

Our Research and Education in Shoulder Labral Tears

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.