The main joint in the shoulder is thought of as the 'ball and socket' joint of the shoulder, but actually it is more of a 'ball and saucer' and requires muscles, ligaments and tendons to make it more stable. The saucer is called the glenoid, and is actually part of the shoulder blade. A cartilage rim surrounding the glenoid which is called a labrum helps to hold the joint closely together.
In the case of a tear of this labrum, the shoulder may become unstable or loose and painful with certain motions. The upper part of the labrum may tear (called a SLAP lesion), or the lower part (called a Bankart lesion).
A tear may happen from sudden or unexpected strain on the shoulder, such as a fall, an unexpected pull of the arm, or injuries which dislocate the shoulder joint. Heavy repetitive use which places an extra or unusual strain on this joint, such as lifting weights, may cause a tear of the labrum as well.
Along with a history of any injury or abnormal use of the shoulder, a physical examination using specific motions may suggest that a tear of the glenoid labrum is present. Usually X-rays are done, but because the labrum is made of cartilage X-rays and CT scans may not show a torn labrum. MRI testing is often the best test (sometimes done using a contrast material injected into the joint). Ultimately, the best test is directly looking at the shoulder joint with an arthoscope (a flexible instrument with a camera is inserted through a small incision in the skin near the shoulder).
The treatment of a glenoid labrum tear depends upon how severely it affects the function of the shoulder, as well as how painful it is. Initial treatment often consists of physical therapy and exercises to reduce the pain and stiffness and improve motion in the joint. For severe cases, arthroscopic surgery may be performed, where an orthopedic surgeon may use an arthroscope and instruments to examine and repair the problem.
If you develop shoulder pain with exercise or exertion, please contact your physician as this may be a sign of heart disease.
Medications such as Tylenol (generic = acetaminophen) Aleve (generic = naproxen), Motrin (generic = ibuprofen) or aspirin may be recommended to help the pain. Various prescription medications which belong to a group of medications called 'non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications' (or 'NSAIDs' for short) are commonly recommended. Some of the more commonly prescribed of these include medications such as Celebrex, Motrin, Naprosyn, Mobic or Voltaren (a complete list is available at the reference below).