SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

January 9, 2009

Untreated labral tears could cause loss of arm function

Are you having difficulty moving your arm because of shoulder pain? Does your arm constantly feel tired and heavy? Is it an effort to lift objects heavier than 10 pounds? Maybe your shoulder feels as if it's going to fall out of place, or it makes a lot of noise when you try and use it. If any of these describe your symptoms, you might have a labral tear.

The labrum of the shoulder is made up of a group of tissues that lend passive support to the "ball" of the joint. The labrum provides stability that is vital to secure the ball of the shoulder within the socket as your arm moves through space. Small labral tears may cause minor clicking of the shoulder, whereas major tears may cause complete dislocation.

The tissues that comprise the labrum have a poor blood supply. In fact, no research to date suggests that the labrum even have the capacity to heal, making therapy or surgery critical in avoiding long-term problems.

Labral tears have distinct signs that are unique from most other shoulder pathologies. The most common symptom is a feeling that there is nothing keeping the shoulder in place. The shoulder will feel as if it could just fall out of the socket at any moment — literally hanging by threads.

Frank weakness of the shoulder and arm often stems from problems of the labrum. While the labrum itself does not contract like a muscle would, a tear of the labrum prevents the other muscles of the shoulder from working properly.

Repetitive motion often compounds liberal tears. Given the frequency at which we use our shoulders, small tears tend to progress towards large tears. Large tears left untreated may cause catastrophic loss of arm function an ultimately result in a salvage-type surgery.

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