Torn Labrum in Baseball

Pitcher following through pitching motion, ball in mid-air

The labrum is a ring of soft tissue that surrounds the area near the end of the shoulder blade. Ligaments and tendons attach to your labrum and provide stability for the shoulder joint when you're performing an activity such as throwing a baseball or swinging a bat. Because of the importance of the labrum in shoulder movement, tearing it has serious consequences for baseball players. Torn labrums must be repaired with surgery and intense rehabilitation.

The Labrum’s Effect on Baseball Players

Because the labrum stabilizes the shoulder joint, having a partial or full tear creates a tremendous amount of pain whenever you move your shoulder. Pitchers may experience diminished fastball velocity along with the pain and tenderness around the shoulder. Among baseball players, labrum issues are much more difficult to diagnose than other shoulder or elbow injuries because of a lack of diagnostic resources.

Labrum Tears in Major League Baseball

Because diagnostic tools for finding damaged labrums weren’t readily available until the 21st century, countless Major League Baseball players likely experienced the injury without ever being diagnosed. In 2011, major league teams often use several orthopedists and radiologists to get a consensus on the extent of the injury. According to an article by Will Carroll on the Slate website, 36 players were diagnosed with a torn labrum from 1998 to 2003, and only middle reliever Rocky Biddle returned to the form he had before his injury. In contrast, famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews estimates that 85 percent of players return to full strength after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.

Labrum Rehabilitation

A torn labrum most often requires arthroscopic surgery to repair the fibers that have been torn. Although surgery is usually recommended for a partial tear of the labrum, it is not required. A partial tear will likely be painful, but the condition will probably not worsen unless added stress is placed on the shoulder area. After surgery, the labrum usually takes up to 60 days to repair and up to 360 days for the full maturation process to be complete. A few weeks after the surgery, it is recommended that some light stress be placed on the joint to build up scar tissue that will help with the healing process.

Preventing Labrum Injuries

According to Carroll, there are no proven ways to prevent labrum injuries, and unlike the rotator cuff, there are no ways to strengthen the labrum. People throughout baseball have suggested that you shouldn’t throw while your arm is fatigued to prevent labrum injuries, but little evidence suggests that this is true. A growing consensus believes taking a conservative approach to throwing and taking care not to overwork the shoulder area help prevent labrum injuries.