What is the labrum?

The hip is a ball and socket joint. The ball is made up of the top end of the thigh bone or femur. The socket is made up of the pelvis bones and is also called the acetabulum. The labrum is a fibrocartilaginous structure on the rim of the acetabulum in continuity with the articular cartilage of the acetabulum.

What is the function of the labrum?

The labrum plays a role in hip stability by deepening the socket of the acetabulum and providing a seal of the hip joint.

Why does it tear?

The cause of a labral tear may be degenerative or traumatic. Degenerative tears occur after years of repetitive minor injuries and are usually associated with arthritis of the hip. Traumatic injuries can occur with any sporting activity that causes rapid hip motion especially associated with sudden stops and turns on the field, mats, or court. Occasionally, a traumatic injury that causes a labral tear is somewhat trivial and is forgotten by the time of the diagnosis

Why does it matter if it is torn?

A torn labrum will not function normally in is role in enhancing joint stability and congruity. It can also be a source of significant pain and cause inflammation in the hip joint. The altered mechanics of the hip joint with a torn labrum may lead to early degenerative arthritis.

What are the symptoms of a torn labrum?

You may experience pain, often sharp, but sometimes dull, in the groin or buttock during certain activities or certain movements of the hip joint. Sometimes you may have pain getting into/out of a car or seated position. You may have no pain or symptoms while at rest. Occasionally, you may have a clicking or catching sensation.

How is it diagnosed?

Most patients can be diagnosed with a good history, physical exam, and an MRI.  A patient’s history will generally involve complaints of hip pain as described above.  The physical exam will generally confirm the patient’s history and eliminate other causes of hip pain.  Plain x-rays may be completely normal or may demonstrate some signs of femoro-acetabular impingement (see pamphlet on FAI).
An MRI study with intraarticular gadolinium (contrast dye in the joint) and a pain test provide the most diagnostic information.  The pain test typically involves placing a local anesthetic inside the hip joint with the contrast dye.  Using the pain test helps assess whether the pain is coming from inside the hip joint. The MR Arthrogram is most helpful in eliminating certain causes of non FAI hip pain including avascular necrosis (dead bone) and tumors.
What other diagnoses might be confused with a labral tear?

Lumbar Spine Pain (Low Back Pain)
Lumbar Radiculopathy (Low Back Pinched Nerve, Low Back Facet Disease)
Sacroiliitis (SI Pain/Dysfunction, back of pelvis)
Trochanteric Bursitis (Outside Hip Pain)
Piriformis Syndrome (Back of Hip Pain)
Psychosomatic Pain Disorder (Stress Related Illness)
Iliopsoas Tendonitis/Tendinosis (Hip Flexor Inflammation)
Groin Pull
Sports Hernia (abdominal muscle strain)
Iliac Apophysitis (Front of Pelvis Pain)
Quadriceps Hernia/Strain (Thigh Muscle Pull)
What are the treatment options?

The treatment of labral tears in the hip is driven by the symptoms you experience. You may try nonoperative treatments such as activity modification, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. Injections of steroid or viscosupplements (Hyalgen, Synvisc) may also be attempted – but are usually not particularly effective.

If you are still symptomatic despite these non-operative treatments, you can undergo hip arthroscopy to treat the problem. During a hip arthroscopy, the labrum will be debrided and repaired and any associated problems in the hip joint will be addressed.

What are the long term consequences of a labral tear?

We do not know for sure, but there seems to be a significant association between labral tears and arthritis in the hip – that is to say no study demonstrates a direct cause of arthritis by labral tears. It is impossible at this stage to predict who will develop symptomatic arthritis and who will not.

How long can I wait before seeking treatment?

Typically, if nonoperative treatments fail to provide relief of your symptoms after 3-6 months, you should strongly consider surgery.  A longer wait may compromise the cartilage of the hip.

If I don’t have my labral tear fixed, will I need a total hip replacement in the future?

Again, it is impossible to predict how severe the progression will be. Currently, there are several studies in progress assessing the long term complications of untreated labral tears.

My doctor told me that I should just have my labral tear cut out. Why should it be repaired?

Just as surgeons realized the importance of preserving the meniscus after decades of cutting out torn meniscal cartilage in the knee, recent literature has demonstrated that the labrum is a very important structure in the hip joint and every effort should be made to preserve the labrum.

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