The bicep muscle plays a crucial role in the ability to help lift, rotate and move your upper arm. Located on the front of the upper arm just under the shoulder, the muscles are attached to the elbow and shoulder with bicep tendons. Experience a bicep tendon tear, whether through fall, sports related injury or from extreme wear and tear, and strength in the upper arm can be lost and movement in the upper arm painful.
There are a couple of varieties of a biceps tendon tear:
- A partial bicep tear is one that does not completely sever the tendon
- A complete bicep tear –also referred to as a biceps tendon rupture— will fully split the bicep tendon into separate pieces
Most bicep tears are the result of on-going, continuous strain and wear and tear on the biceps muscle. This is most commonly seen in weight and strength training and usually starts with just a simple fraying of the bicep tendon. As the injured tendon progresses, it will eventually tear. These bicep tears can occur in two distinct ways:
- At the shoulder joint: A proximal biceps tendon rupture is an injury to the biceps tendon at the shoulder joint. This is the most common bicep tendon tear and typically occurs in patients 60 years of age or older. This injury creates minimal symptoms and usually will heal on its own.
- At the elbow joint: A distal biceps tendon rupture is an injury at the elbow joint. It most commonly affects middle-aged men and is caused by heavy lifting or sports. Most people who suffer from this injury will need to have surgery in order to correct the problem.
Symptoms of a Bicep Tear
Symptoms associated with a torn biceps tendon include sudden, sharp upper arm pain—sometimes with a noticeable snap or popping sound. Cramping, bruising, pain and tenderness of the shoulder, biceps and elbow are common. In addition, it will most likely be difficult to turn the palm up or down.
Treatment for a Bicep Tendon Tear
It is important to note that the biceps have two attachments at the shoulder: a long head and a short head. These heads will affect the injury and treatment differently. The long head is the part that is more likely to be injured whereas the short head rarely tears. Because of this second attachment, many people can still function and use their biceps even with the long head of the biceps damaged. With that said, many people can still function with a biceps tendon tear, and only need simple treatments to relieve symptoms.
Treating a torn biceps tendon non-surgically will include resting the arm that is injured and avoiding any heavy lifting or the activity that may have caused the injury (i.e. weight training). Applying cold packs and ice will help with swelling and overall pain. You can also take anti-inflammatory medications and non-steroid drugs for pain relief. We will consult with you on various at-home physical therapy exercises you can do in order to help with flexibility and strength.
Several new torn biceps tendon procedures are available to repair the injured tendon with minimal incisions using arthroscopic surgery. The goal of the surgery is to re-anchor the torn tendon back to the bone. Each case will vary slightly and the majority have a good prognosis.