MR Imaging of SLAP Lesions

The Open Orthopaedics Journal 31 July 2018 REVIEW ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1874325001812010314



SLAP lesions of the shoulder are challenging to diagnose by clinical means alone. Interpretation of MR images requires knowledge of the normal appearance of the labrum, its anatomical variants, and the characteristic patterns of SLAP lesions. In general, high signal extending anterior and posterior to the biceps anchor is the hallmark of SLAP lesions. Common diagnostic criteria for a SLAP lesion by MR or MR arthrography include the following: presence of a laterally curved, high signal intensity in the labrum on a coronal image, multiple or branching lines of high signal intensity in the superior labrum on a coronal image, full-thickness detachment with irregularly marginated high signal intensity and/or separation >2 mm on conventional MRI or 3 mm on MR arthrography between the labrum and glenoid on a coronal image, and a paralabral cyst extending from the superior labrum.


MR diagnosis of SLAP tears may be improved with provocative maneuvers, such as longitudinal traction of the arm or positioning of the shoulder in abduction and external rotation during imaging. The use of intra-articular contrast distends the joint similar to what occurs during arthroscopy and forced diffusion under the labrum may improve the ability to detect SLAP lesions that might not be seen with standard MR. Improved diagnostic accuracy for SLAP tears is seen with 3-T compared with 1.5-T MR imaging, with or without intra-articular contrast material.


Regardless of MR findings, however, physicians should be cautious when recommending surgery in the patient with a vague clinical picture. The patient’s history, physical exam, and imaging evaluation all should be considered together in making the decision to proceed with surgery.

Keywords: SLAP tear, MRI, Superior labrum, Biceps anchor, MR arthrography, Intra-articular.
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