Tendons have an important role in our body, attaching our muscles to our bones, so that we can move around properly. The biceps tendon is a strong length of fibrous tissue that connects the biceps muscle to the bones in the shoulder and runs along the front of your upper arm. Unfortunately, if this tendon becomes weakened or damaged, it can rupture. This will affect your ability to use your arm properly, and without treatment, can cause permanent weakness in the affected limb.
What causes a bicep tendon tears?
It is possible to rupture the biceps tendon at either the shoulder or elbow.
The biceps tendon has two attachment points at the shoulder, and these are known as the long and short heads. Out of the two, it is the long head of the biceps tendon that is most often seen to rupture, and this is because it is somewhat vulnerable as it travels through the joint to where it attaches in the shoulder socket. Nevertheless, because there are two connecting points, most patients who rupture their biceps tendon at the shoulder are able to maintain use of their bicep, as the torn tendon is still functional.
Bicep tears that occur at the shoulder are predominantly caused by one of two things. The first is a trauma or injury to the shoulder, such as a fall. The second is overuse, as the repetition of certain movements, such as swinging your arm in a tennis serve, can cause extensive wear and tear to the tendon, which will eventually result in it snapping.
Biceps tears at the elbow are quite uncommon and are usually the result of a sudden trauma. When a tear occurs in this part of the body, it generally causes greater overall weakness of the arm than if the tear was in the shoulder.
What are the symptoms of a bicep tendon tear?
If you have sustained injury to the biceps tendon, you may experience symptoms including:
- Bruising and swelling in the upper arm, from shoulder to elbow
- A bulge or deformity in the lower part of the upper arm (akin to an overdeveloped muscle and sometimes known as ‘Popeye’ arm)
- Hearing a sound like a pop or snap at either the shoulder or elbow
- Muscle spasms in the shoulder and arm
- Sharp pain in the upper arm or elbow
- Tenderness in the shoulder/elbow
- Weakness when you try to use the arm, such as lifting it above your head
Am I at risk of a bicep tendon tear?
Certain factors can put you at increased risk of tearing your biceps tendon, either that the shoulder or elbow. Some of these factors include:
- Overuse, such as that seen in certain repetitive sports including tennis, golf and swimming.
- Advancing age. Our bodies naturally suffer from some wear and tear as we get older, and this can affect our tendons too.
- Weightlifting / repeated heavy lifting. Lifting anything heavy puts a strain on our muscles and tendons and doing to repeatedly can cause undue stress and damage that makes a tear more likely.
- Corticosteroids. Studies have shown that patients who used corticosteroids are more at risk of muscle and tendon weakness.
- Smoking. While we know that smoking is not good for your general health, it may surprise you to know that nicotine can affect the nutrition in your tendons, which could cause them to weaken.
What treatment is available for a bicep tendon tear?
In the majority of cases, Dr. Raskin will recommend that you try non-surgical therapies to treat your biceps tendon tear first. These can include plenty of rest, pain relief medication, ice packs and physical therapy with a trained professional. You may also be given some exercises which you should follow at home.
However, if the non-surgical treatment methods are not proving successful and the tendon is not healing as it should, then invasive surgery to repair the biceps tendon may be necessary. The goal of biceps tendon tear surgery is to reattach the torn tendon back to the bone. This type of surgery is very successful and complications are unusual.
Unfortunately, if a tear has occurred at the elbow the biceps tendon will not grow back to the bone and heal itself regardless of what therapies you try. Although some movement may be possible due to the function of the other muscles in the arm, the full capabilities and strength of the arm will not be possible. One movement that is particularly restricted is twisting the forearm from palm down to palm up, also known as supination. The only way to fully restore function and strength to the arm is through surgery.
If you have suffered a tear to your biceps tendon, you will inevitably be feeling some unpleasant effects. Our highly qualified, professional orthopedic surgeon in Manhattan, NY, Dr. Raskin, has the training and experience to be able to deliver outstanding quality medical are for his patients in a range of different disciplines, including biceps tendon tear surgery. To find out more about biceps tendon tear treatments, or to discuss any other hand or wrist injury that you may have, call our office today at 212-889-8600.