Case Reports

Bilateral Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior (SLAP) Tears With Abnormal Anatomy of Biceps Tendon

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There have been several descriptions of variant anatomy of the long head of the biceps tendon (LHBT). A recent literature review identified 8 cases of anomalous intracapsular attachment of the LHBT.

In this report, we discuss a distinctive case of a young athlete who presented with symptoms consistent with bilateral superior labrum anterior to posterior (SLAP) tears that were unresponsive to conservative measures. Magnetic resonance imaging and arthroscopic findings of this patient confirmed that the patient had type II SLAP tears, a Buford complex anteriorly, and perhaps most important, confluence of the biceps tendon itself to the undersurface of the capsule within the rotator interval.

Our case proposes that anomalous insertion of the LHBT, as well as other labral and biceps anchor variations, are not always a benign finding at the time of arthroscopy. In this particular case, the tethering of the biceps tendon to the capsule is thought to have increased stress on the superior labrum and contributed to the development of the bilateral symptomatic type II SLAP tears that were identified and treated in this young athlete.



The biceps brachii derives its name from the 2 heads of the muscle. The short head originates from the coracoid apex, with the coracobrachialis muscle. The long head of the biceps tendon (LHBT) starts within the capsule of the shoulder joint, running from the supraglenoid tubercle or labrum.1 The tendon typically runs free along its intra-articular course, but it is also extrasynovial and ensheathed by a continuation of the synovial lining of the articular capsule that extends to the inferior-most extent of the bicipital groove.2 Congenital anomalies of the LHBT are uncommon, although several atypical forms have been described. A literature search for anomalous LHBT identified several variations in anatomic descriptions, including Y-shaped variant, complete absence of tendon, extra-articular attachment, and a variety of intracapsular attachments. In all, 8 case reports of aberrant intracapsular attachment of LHBT3-12 were identified. These cases presented with a variety of clinical manifestations and pathologic changes. Often, these anatomic variations are considered innocuous, yet some present with pathologic findings.

We present the clinical, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and arthroscopic findings of a relatively young athletic patient who was experiencing symptoms of bilateral superior labrum anterior to posterior (SLAP) tears that were unresponsive to conservative management. A unique anatomic variant of the LHBT that involved confluence of the LHBT with the undersurface of the anterosuperior capsule at the rotator interval, as well as a Buford complex anteriorly, was identified and treated. We believe that the tethering of the biceps tendon to the capsule combined with the Buford complex created increased stress on the superior labrum and biceps anchor variant, leading to the development of bilateral symptomatic type II SLAP tears. Knowledge of this variant, though perhaps rare, may be relevant for diagnostic recognition of young athletic patients who present with recalcitrant shoulder symptoms. The patient and the patient’s parents provided written informed consent for print and electronic publication of this case report.

Case Report

A 15-year-old healthy and active athletic boy presented with pain in the right shoulder without history of trauma. He was active in both swimming and baseball. He complained of pain that was present with activities, such as lifting weights, swimming, and throwing. His treatment prior to the office visit consisted of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, rest, and a therapy program initiated by his high school athletic trainer.

Physical examination demonstrated tenderness to palpation over the posterior capsule and biceps. Motion was full, cuff strength was normal, and SLAP signs (O’Brien, Speed, and Jobe relocation) were positive. A radiograph showed no sign of fracture or dislocation, and no evidence of bony abnormality.

The patient was sent for an MRI arthrogram, which showed a SLAP tear extending from 1 o’clock anteriorly to 10 o’clock posteriorly without intra-articular displacement. No rotator cuff tear was noted. The biceps tendon was noted to be unremarkable and located within the bicipital groove, although retrospective review of the MRI showed that the intra-articular biceps tendon was somewhat confluent with the adjacent tissues.

The patient underwent right shoulder arthroscopy. The shoulder was stable to ligamentous examination under anesthesia. Arthroscopic evaluation revealed that there was a type II SLAP tear extending from the 11-o’clock to the 2-o’clock positions. The superior glenohumeral ligament was identified as it arose from the upper pole of the glenoid labrum and then ran parallel and inferior to the tendon of the biceps towards the lesser tubercle. Surprisingly, there was a very unusual attachment of the intracapsular LHBT to the undersurface of the rotator interval, which restricted biceps excursion in relation to the rotator cuff. Additionally, there was a thick cord-like middle glenohumeral ligament anteriorly that lacked the normal glenoid attachments, thus representing a Buford complex. Interestingly, the labral tear could not only be displaced with a probe, but placing the shoulder through a range of motion also led to increased displacement of the labrum from the glenoid, likely because the biceps tendon was tethered to the undersurface of the capsule.

At the time of arthroscopy, the LHBT was released from its attachment to the capsule at the rotator interval with a radiofrequency wand and shaver. A labral repair was performed using three 2.9-mm bioabsorbable suture anchors, placing 2 posterior and 1 anterior to the biceps tendon. The integrity of the labral repair was observed while placing the shoulder through range of motion.

Postoperatively, the patient was kept in a sling for 5 weeks. Home exercises were initiated at 2 weeks, and outpatient physical therapy was implemented at 4 weeks. The patient resumed swimming, throwing, and other activities—with minimal discomfort—at 6 months postoperatively.

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