Repairing a SLAP tear without surgery
If you are reading this article you are likely someone very involved in sports or you have a physically demanding job. You may be a baseball pitcher or the parent of one doing your research looking for that non-surgical alternative that will save next season for your son. You may be doing research for your daughter to keep her on the softball diamond. You may be a landscaper, tradesman or construction worker who does a lot of overhead work looking for the same thing, saving a season of work by getting your shoulder non-surgically repaired.
You have probably already been to a doctor for your SLAP tear
- Your went to the doctor with concerns of pain, possibly a clicking sound and a sense of shoulder instability and loss of strength.
- In sports, like tennis, baseball and softball, your serve and your pitch (or throw from the outfield) may have lost a lot of steam, there is painful motion. Your shoulder may be catchingh or gets stuck.
- At the work site you have difficult with things that require overhead movement.
Whatever the reason, you have a shoulder problem.
- It is a tear in the Glenoid Labrum, the fibrocartilagenous structure that forms a deep pocket that helps keep the humerus bone in the shoulder socket and provides pain-free range of motion.
- SLAP stands for superior labrum anterior and posterior, meaning there’s a tear from front to back on the top of the glenoid labrum.
Later in this article we will discuss how to repair a SLAP lesion without surgery.
I went to the doctor. I was told SLAP tear surgery is the only way to recover
The SLAP tear surgical options examined and question
An October 2018 study is telling patients this, it relates to baseball pitchers but may as well relate to anyone with a SLAP lesion or tear.
- Nonsurgical treatments are usually the first-line therapy for symptomatic SLAP lesion. However, some patients cannot obtain satisfactory improvement of their symptoms, leading to dysfunction of the shoulder and diminished pitching performance.
- MRI readings cannot be improved by nonsurgical treatment. (MRI picture does not look better)
- Nonsurgical treatments in this study included physical therapy, such as range of motion stretching, and rotator cuff exercises, as well as prescription of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs if necessary.(1)
Why your SLAP tear conservative treatment failed
So if you went to a doctor with a problem of your shoulder.
- You went then for an MRI.
- SLAP Lesions seen.
- Physical therapy and exercise tried.
- Pain and inflammation pills next.
- You went back for an MRI, if the MRI is just as bad- you get recommended to SURGERY.
- IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE: There are many non-surgical less invasive procedures. This study examined physical therapy, exercise, and anti-inflammatopry medications only. It did not examine regenerative medicine.
Physical therapy leads to SLAP surgery in 1/3rd of patients
In August 2018, doctors at Tulane University published these findings in The open orthopaedics journal.
The management of SLAP lesions can be divided into 4 broad categories:
- (1) nonoperative management that includes scapular exercise to restore muscle balance in the shoulder wings. Shoulder exercises according to these researchers would be expected to provide symptom relief in 2/3 of all patients; enough to prolong or delay surgery.
- (2) patients with a clear traumatic episode (larger tears) and symptoms of instability (possible chronic dislocations) should undergo SLAP surgery and be divided into two surgical groups by age. If under 40 years old without biceps tenotomy or tenodesis or with (if over age 40) biceps tenotomy or tenodesis; (repair or cutting away of part of the bicep tendon).
- (3) patients with problems from overuse but without instability symptoms should be managed by biceps tenotomy or tenodesis; and
- (4) throwing athletes that should be in their own category and preferentially managed with rigorous physical therapy centered on hip, core, and scapular exercise in addition to restoration of shoulder motion and rotator cuff balance. Peel-back SLAP repair (Sewing the labrum down to prevent it from “peeling back,” Posterior Inferior Glenohumeral Ligament (PIGHL) release surgery, and treatment of the partial infraspinatus tear with debridement procedure, PRP, or (rarely) repair should be reserved for those who fail this rehabilitation program.
It is interesting to note the first mention of using Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) are in the instance of athletes. We have found PRP injections to be an effective treatment when combined with H3 Prolotherapy. This is explained below.
The failure of SLAP lesion or SLAP tear surgery and repeated surgeries to fix what the first surgery could not
Research from New York University says:
- of 2,524 patients who had a SLAP lesion surgical repair, after 3 to 11 years of follow-up, 10% of patients (254 of 2,524) underwent repeat surgical intervention on the same shoulder as the initial SLAP repair.
- The average time to that repeat shoulder surgery was a little more than 2 years later
- Subsequent procedures included:
- subacromial decompression a procedure that cuts ligaments and shaves down bone spurs on the acromion bone (35%),
- debridement, a “power washing” of the debris and damaged tissue in the shoulder (26.7%).
- repeat SLAP repair (19.7%),
- and biceps tenodesis or tenotomy (13.0%). This is a more radical procedure usually reserved for aging patients and involves cutting the tendon attachment of the bicep to the shoulder labrum and attaching it to the humerus bone (upper arm).
- After isolated SLAP repair (where only the SLAP lesion was arthroscopically repaired), patients aged 20 years or younger were more likely to undergo arthroscopic Bankart repair
- Patients over 30 were at risk for subsequent acromioplasty and distal clavicle resection
- The need for a subsequent procedure was significantly associated with Workers’ Compensation cases.(2)
In a combined study from University of Minnesota and German researchers, doctors found that if conservative treatment fails, successful arthroscopic repair of symptomatic SLAP lesions could be achieved. However what was the measurement of success? If it was return to sport, or function in older patients, it was not that successful.
- the results of arthroscopic repair in throwing athletes are less successful with a significant amount of patients who will not regain their pre-injury level of performance.
- The clinical results of SLAP repairs in middle-aged and older patients are mixed, with worse results and higher revision rates as compared to younger patients.
These doctors also looked at the problem of “normal variations and degenerative changes” in the SLAP complex that needs to be distinguished from “true”SLAP lesions in order to improve results and avoid overtreatment.” Possibly avoid a surgery based on the wrong recommendation.
Surgery as diagnostic tool causes concern
In a recent review of SLAP lesion repair surgeries, one author, Stephen C. Weber, MD, noted the rise in both the number of repair surgeries and complications associated with them. This study looked at the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery database for SLAP lesion repairs.
- With 4,975 repairs in the database, only 26.3% of the patients reported a complete resolution of pain.
- Worse, only 13.1% of them reported normal function.
The author expressed concern over the number of young orthopedic surgeons performing SLAP lesion repairs and also the number of middle-aged and elderly patients receiving them given the complications associated.
He concluded that there should be a greater focus on educating young orthopedic surgeons so that they can recognize and treat SLAP lesions appropriately with the hopes of decreasing the number of surgical repairs performed.(4)
Four years later researchers suggest the best diagnostic tool is still surgery and doing some repair while you are in there.
- Doctors in the United Kingdom say magnetic resonance arthrography while having a high diagnostic accuracy for labral tears and Hill-Sachs lesions, is controversial. Arthroscopic diagnosis remains the gold standard. (5)
- University researchers in Turkey say “Although MRI is a good diagnostic tool for SLAP lesions, its use for the classification is limited.”(6)
“36.8% of these surgeries were considered a “failure” and 28% had to be redone”
“Arthroscopic revision type II SLAP repairs yield worse results than primary repairs as reported in the literature, with workers’ compensation patients and overhead athletes doing especially worse.”
The above recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed the post-surgical outcomes of athletes with SLAP lesions (superior labrum anterior to posterior tears).
One hundred seventy-nine military athletes were used in the study, all of which underwent surgery to fix an existing SLAP lesion. Out of all the operations, 36.8% of these surgeries were considered a “failure” and 28% had to be redone. That means that 66 individuals had a failed surgery and 51 had to go back into the operating room.
At two to five year follow-ups, a significant amount of these athletes still had decreased range of motion in the affected shoulder. Researchers concluded that an age greater than 36 years old was the factor that was associated with an increased chance of surgery failure. Other studies have shown similar statistics with many participants unable to ever return to their previous pre-surgery activity level.
The major long-term functional problem of surgical treatment for shoulder labrum tears is that the surgery usually confined itself to stapling or suturing the labrum itself and did not address damage occurring in the whole shoulder.
Treating the Glenoid Labrum or SLAP tear with sutures and staples would indicate the pain is coming from an isolated tissue damage. It is thought by keeping the humeral head in the socket, chronic instability will go away. In reality, this is not the case. Any type of injury affects all the structures of the joint. In the patients we see at Caring Medical, this is not the case. People with shoulder labrum problems have whole shoulder joint instability, they have damage to the shoulder ligaments front and back, they have damage to the rotator cuff tendons and damage to the biceps tendon that surgery cannot address.
Back to Baseball the SLAP lesions in the Pitcher
Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital published these findings in the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
The published return-to-play (RTP) rates for athletes who have undergone surgical repair of superior labrum anterior-posterior (SLAP) tears vary widely and are generally accepted to be lower in the group of competitive throwers (baseball pitchers). Therefore the effectiveness of nonsurgical treatment should be explored.
The Houston group looked at 119 patients in a single professional baseball organization with persistent shoulder pain that limited the ability to compete.
- Sixty-eight patients had magnetic resonance imaging-documented SLAP lesions.
- All patients had failed 1 attempt at rehabilitation but had continued with supervised physical therapy.
- Treatment was according to an algorithm focusing on the correction of scapular dyskinesia and posterior capsular contracture with glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD), followed by pain-free return to throwing.
- Scapular dyskinesis or SICK scapula syndrome is considered an overuse injury (common in throwing athletes) in which there is abnormal movement and resting location of the scapula.
- Posterior capsular contracture with glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) also dignify abnormal movement of the shoulder with overuse being a possible cause.
Those who failed 2 cycles of nonsurgical treatment were treated surgically.
Success was defined by 2 different standards:
(1) return-to-play (RTP), success was measured in accordance with previous study findings; and
(2) a more stringent standard of return to the same level/quality of professional competition (level A baseball, Double A baseball, Triple A baseball etc.) with the incorporation of a return to preinjury individual performance statistics (earned run average, walks plus hits per inning pitched), termed “return to prior performance” (RPP).
- Sixty-eight athletes were identified with SLAP lesions.
- Twenty-one pitchers successfully completed the nonsurgical algorithm and attempted a return.
- Their return-to-play rate was 40%,
and their return to prior performance rate was 22%.
- Their return-to-play rate was 40%,
- The return-to-play rate for 27 pitchers who underwent 30 surgical procedures was 48%, and the RPP rate was 7%.
- For 10 position players treated nonsurgically, the return-to-play rate rate was 39%, and the RPP rate was 26%.
- The return-to-play rate for 13 position players who underwent 15 procedures was 85%, with an RPP rate of 54%.
- Nonsurgical treatment correcting scapular dyskinesia and GIRD had a reasonable success rate in professional baseball players with painful shoulders and documented SLAP lesions.
- The rate of return after surgical treatment of SLAP lesions was low for pitchers.
- The return-to-play rate and RPP rates were higher for position players than for pitchers.
- Nonsurgical treatment should be considered for professional baseball players with documented SLAP lesions, as it can lead to acceptable return-to-play rate and return to prior performance rates.(8)
In a study from late 2016, doctors at Wayne State University School of Medicine published these findings:
- Of the twenty-four Major League Baseball players who had SLAP tear surgical repair between 2003 and 2010 who met the study criteria:
- 62.5% were able to return-to-play at the Major League level after SLAP repair surgery.
- Of those able to return-to-play, 86.7% were able to return to prior performance.
However, the overall rate of return to prior performance, including those unable to return-to-play rate, was 54.2%. A little more than half had a successful surgery and return to prior performance. However performance analysis of the return-to-play group revealed a statistically significant decrease in innings pitched for Major League pitchers throwing a mean 101.8 innings before injury and 65.53 innings after injury.(9)
Non-surgical regenerative medicine injection therapy for SLAP lesions
People with SLAP tears who call or email us, do so because they want to avoid surgery. Perhaps it is the athlete who cannot afford to miss a High School or Collegiate season or it is a house painter or the tree trimmer or the carpenter who cannot afford extended time away from his/her business.
The treatments we offer are
- H3 Prolotherapy. This is a simple dextrose injection that promotes tissue healing through a controlled inflammation.
- Platelet Rich Plasma Injections which is the use of your own healing blood platelets to repair damaged tissue.
- For significant damage or when healing needs to be performed on a more accelerated method, we may prescribe stem cell therapy. This is the use of your own stem cells. We do not offer stem cells to every patient. We find that H3 Prolotherapy and PRP injections provide the patient’s goal of treatment within the time frame they are looking for. This procedure is explained in the video below.
As explained in the video above and presented in more detail here.
- A patient may get 30 separate injections in one Prolotherapy treatment.
- Why so many treatments? Because we are treating the entire shoulder joint complex. This includes the shoulder ligaments and tendons as well as the SLAP lesion. This of course would be especially beneficial to laborers and athletes because you are strengthening the other important areas of the shoulder.
- We typically recommend exercises that limit their shoulder motion so the elbow stays close to the side.
- We would discuss altering work related movements to keep the elbow close, like how to swing a hammer or use power tools. For the athlete how to throw.
- It is important to keep pressure of the labrum while it is healing and rehab properly.
We will often see patients who went to their orthopedic surgeon and were able to receive a PRP injection into the shoulder. In our experience, we have found that you cannot simply offer a single platelet-rich plasma injection inside the joint and expect superior results. When Prolotherapy/PRP injections are offered here, as just mentioned, a patient may expect 30 injections and a comprehensive treatment.
If you have questions and would like to discuss your shoulder pain issues with our staff you get get help and information from our Caring Medical staff.
1 Hashiguchi H, Iwashita S, Yoneda M, Takai S. Factors influencing outcomes of nonsurgical treatment for baseball players with SLAP lesion. Asia-Pacific Journal of Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation and Technology. 2018;14:6-9. doi:10.1016/j.asmart.2018.08.001. [Google Scholar]
2 Mollon B, Mahure SA, Ensor KL, Zuckerman JD, Kwon YW, Rokito AS. Subsequent Shoulder Surgery After Isolated Arthroscopic SLAP Repair. Arthroscopy. 2016 Oct;32(10):1954-1962.e1. [Google Scholar]
3 Brockmeyer M, Tompkins M, Kohn DM, Lorbach O. SLAP lesions: a treatment algorithm. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2016 Jan 27. [Google Scholar]
4 Weber, SC, et al. Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior Lesions of the Shoulder: Incidence Rates, Complications, and Outcomes as Reported by American Board of Orthopedic Surgery Part II Candidates. Am J Sports Med. 2012 May 24. [AAOS]
5 Saqib R, Harris J, Funk L. Comparison of magnetic resonance arthrography with arthroscopy for imaging of shoulder injuries: retrospective study. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2017 Apr;99(4):271-274. doi: 10.1308/rcsann.2016.0249. [Google Scholar]
6. Yıldız F, Bilsel K, Pulatkan A, Uzer G, Aralaşmak A, Atay M. Reliability of magnetic resonance imaging versus arthroscopy for the diagnosis and classification of superior glenoid labrum anterior to posterior lesions. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2017 Feb;137(2):241-247. [Google Scholar]
7. Park S, Glousman RE. Outcomes of revision arthroscopic type II superior labral anterior posterior repairs. The American journal of sports medicine. 2011 Jun;39(6):1290-4. [Google Scholar]
8 Fedoriw WW, Ramkumar P, McCulloch PC, Lintner DM. Return to play after treatment of superior labral tears in professional baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2014 May;42(5):1155-60. [Google Scholar]
9 Smith R, Lombardo DJ, Petersen-Fitts GR, et al. Return to Play and Prior Performance in Major League Baseball Pitchers After Repair of Superior Labral Anterior-Posterior Tears. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016;4(12):2325967116675822. [Pubmed]