Although relatively uncommon, the biceps muscle can suffer a partial or even a complete tear.
There are two leading causes for a biceps tendon tear: injury and overuse. Injury usually occurs with a hard fall on when lifting a heavy object. The majority of biceps tears are the product of wear and tear on the tendon, which occurs naturally as people age (overuse). Consistently repeating the same shoulder movements can lead to an array of issues, including tendonitis, shoulder impingement or rotator cuff damage. These conditions place additional stress on the tendon and increase the likelihood of a tear.
Symptoms of a biceps tendon rupture may include:
- A “pop” sound when it happens
- Severe pain at first that subsides after a week or so
- Swelling in front of the elbow
- Sensation of weakness in bending or supinating the elbow
- Visible bruising in the elbow and forearm region
- A noticeable gap in front of the elbow that results from the absence of the tendon
“When the bicep is ruptured or torn at the elbow level it needs surgery, or else the patient will lose functions like supination and flexion strength,” says Dr. Reuss. “Sometimes the biceps is ruptured in the shoulder and results in a Popeye deformity (an abnormal shortening of the biceps muscle).”
For many patients with shoulder-originated biceps tears, the pain clears up over time. In other cases, mild residual arm pain or deformity may not bother individual patients, such as older or less active individuals.
Conservative treatment options for a biceps tendon tear may include:
Ice. Applying a cold pack for twenty minutes at a time a few times each day can help address pain and swelling.
Nonsteroidal medication. Over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen can help decrease inflammation and discomfort.
Rest. Activities that exacerbate the injury or involve reaching overhead or heavy lifting should be avoided.
Physical therapy. Patients should seek treatment from a licensed physical therapist to restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion.