Grating, Clicking, Pain, and Weakness in the Shoulder

These symptoms are common in many types of shoulder injuries, but the shoulder can be damaged in several ways. It takes an attentive orthopedic doctor specializing in shoulder problems to make the right diagnosis. Shoulder tears in the glenoid labrum are one common cause of shoulder pain. The glenoid labrum is soft tissue attached to the socket part of the shoulder. It provides extra stability for the ball part of the joint, keeping it from popping out of the socket too easily and allowing the shoulder to move in many different directions.

Specific symptoms of a glenoid labrum tear may include:

  • Pain when raising the arms overhead
  • Noises such as clicking and popping
  • A sensation of the shoulder locking up or getting caught
  • A feeling of instability in the joint
  • Pain during rest or everyday activities
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Inability to fully move the shoulder in all directions

The glenoid labrum can tear in more than one direction. Symptoms are different depending on the direction. Pain from a tear can happen gradually from repetitive motion, or it can be the result of a sudden injury.

These and other factors make it important to see an experienced orthopedic doctor to get a proper diagnosis. He or she may take different types of images to see what's going on. X-rays won't show soft tissue tears, but they can rule out other causes of pain. MRI or CT scans can but don't always show a small glenoid labrum tear, but arthroscopic surgery, where the doctor inserts instruments and a camera into the shoulder through small incisions, is the surest way to a definitive diagnosis.

Although a tear will not fix itself, strengthening the muscles around it can improve symptoms enough to relieve the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications and activity changes can also help. If those treatments don't work, arthroscopic surgery may be necessary. The doctor will trim the tear away and in some cases add stability with hardware or sutures.