The biceps muscle, which many of us think of as the bulging muscle that weight lifters tend to show off, actually has two tendons, which attach it to the shoulder girdle. One, the long head, attaches at the top of the glenoid of the scapula (shoulder blade), and the second, the short head, attaches to another bony part of the scapula. A tendon at the other end attaches it to the radius at the elbow. The biceps muscle functions to bend the elbow and rotate the forearm to turn the palm of the hand up and down. Injury to either of the biceps tendons at the shoulder can cause pain and swelling, and can significantly decrease function in the arm.
The team of shoulder specialists at the Shoulder Surgery Center of Excellence in Los Angeles is committed to providing comprehensive care for shoulder injuries. Our orthopedic surgeons are renowned experts in arthroscopic treatment of the biceps tendon, and are well-trained in conservative management for less severe injuries to the biceps muscle or its tendons. If you think you may have suffered an injury of the biceps, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.
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How Do Biceps Injuries Occur?
Injuries of the biceps can either occur over time, or due to a traumatic stress event of the shoulder, upper arm, or elbow. Over time, bone spurs may form in the shoulder joint and irritate the long head of the biceps as it contracts and slides in the space beneath the bony girdle of the shoulder. Acute injuries to the shoulder, elbow, or upper arm can also cause biceps injuries.
Biceps tendinitis is the irritation or inflammation of the biceps tendon, usually in the shoulder. The condition may be caused by overuse motions of the arm and shoulder, impingement, inflammation, or direct traumatic injury. Gradual warning signs of biceps tendinitis include:
- Feeling pain when the front of your shoulder is touched.
- Pain in the front of the shoulder when moving your arm and shoulder.
- Pain in the front of the shoulder when extending or raising your arm in front of you or above your shoulder.
- Popping or crunchy sound when you move your shoulder or arm.
Biceps tendinitis is usually a slowly-developing condition, however, some patients may experience the pain and inflammation of tendinitis after only a short time of overuse. If the affected arm or shoulder continues to be used without treatment, the inflammation and weakness associated with tendinitis can increase the risk of tearing of the biceps tendon or nearby tendons.
A tear in the biceps typically results from heavy weightlifting, serious or constant overuse, or a twisting/jerking injury to the elbow or shoulder. Small, partial tears of the biceps are common, but, if left untreated, may lead to a complete tear. Symptoms of a partial or complete tear in the biceps include the following:
- Sudden and severe pain in the elbow or upper part of the arm.
- A stress incident of the arm accompanied by a popping or snapping sound or feeling.
- Difficulty turning the palm of your hand up and/or down.
- Loss of arm strength, specifically in the elbow or shoulder.
- Painful bulge appearing in the front of your upper arm after a stress incident of the arm or shoulder.
Many people with mild biceps tendon tears can make a successful recovery with conservative therapies. However, patients with complete tears or symptoms that do not resolve with conservative treatment may require surgical repair of the biceps tendon.
Treatment for a Biceps Injury
Minor biceps injuries may be resolved through non-surgical treatment. Our team of shoulder specialists advises rest and avoidance of heavy lifting or overhead activities that could aggravate a biceps injury. Additionally, physical therapy can help to reduce pain and recover strength in the shoulder joint and upper arm.
Surgical repair may be necessary for more severe biceps injuries. At the Shoulder Surgery Center of Excellence in Los Angeles, we offer state-of-the-art facilities and diagnostic equipment to help determine the best course of action for your biceps injury. Our orthopedic surgeons are highly skilled in the use of arthroscopic surgery to repair damaged or torn tendons in the shoulder. Shoulder arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure, can be used to remove bits of irritated tissue from the shoulder or to reattach a torn biceps tendon completely. Specific surgical treatment of a biceps injury depends on the nature and extent of damage to the muscle structure.
Recovery from surgery can involve immobilization of the shoulder followed by physical therapy rehabilitation. Most patients can return to normal desk work within a few weeks of biceps surgery, while a return to heavy labor could take up to several months.
Orthopedic Shoulder Surgeons in Los Angeles
The Shoulder Surgery Center of Excellence is a team of renowned orthopedic surgeons specializing in the comprehensive treatment of shoulder and upper arm injuries as well as chronic shoulder joint conditions. If you have specific questions about biceps tendon injuries, you can contact us by calling (888) 847-0357 filling out our online contact form.
Please read this article on bicep injuries from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Next, learn about cartilage tears.