What are the symptoms of biceps tendon injury?
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.
How is a biceps tendon injury treated?
It is important to note that the biceps has two attachments at the shoulder: a long head and a short head. The long head is the tendon at the shoulder that is most frequently injured. Short head biceps injuries are exceedingly rare, while long head biceps injures are exceedingly common. Because of this second attachment at the shoulder, many people can still function and use their biceps even when the long head of the biceps is severely damaged or completely torn. 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. Dr. Millett will consult with you on various at-home physical therapy exercises that can be done 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. At the shoulder, the long head of the biceps is typically re-attached using a subpectoral (deep to the chest muscle) approach that anchors the long head biceps tendon into the upper part of the arm bone (proximal humerus) using a small screw and suture. Dr. Millett has literally done over a thousand of these procedures with excellent success. Once it is healed patients have normal strength and function, the scar becomes invisible in the armpit, and the muscle appearance returns to normal. When the biceps tendon is injured at the elbow, the repair is done with a small incision and the torn tendon is reattached to the forearm bone (radius) using sutures and a small fixation device. Dr. Millett has also been involved with the development and teaching this technique. Excellent results can be expected with full recovery in 3-4 months.
For additional resources on bicep tendon injuries, please contact the office of Dr. Peter Millett, serving patients in Vail, Aspen and the surrounding Denver, Colorado communities.