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Biceps Tendon Disorders

The biceps muscle helps bend your elbow and rotate the arm.  Its tendon connects the muscle to the bone.  More specifically, the upper end of the biceps tendon passes across the humerus and inserts into the socket by attaching to the labrum.

Problems with the biceps tendon can occur from repetitive activities, overuse, lifting heavy objects overhead, or falling on an outstretched arm.  Often times, you may have a problem with the rotator cuff when the biceps tendon is injured.

Biceps tendon disorders fall into 3 categories: partial tears, complete tears, and tendinitis.

  • Partial biceps tendon tear: the tendon is worn or “frayed” from repetitive use and may not be torn completely.  The tendon becomes irritated and inflamed.
  • Complete biceps tendon tear: the tendon splits into two pieces.  This can occur from continuous wearing of a partial tear, or from an injury that divides the tendon in two.
  • Biceps tendinitis: inflammation of the biceps tendon which causes pain and is frequently the result of overuse or injury.

Symptoms include pain in the front of the shoulder, sharp or sudden pain with arm movement, and pain with lifting, pulling, or overhead activity.  If the biceps tendon is torn, you may hear a “snap” or “pop,” experience weakness in the arm, or see bruising and swelling over the upper arm.  A bulge over the biceps muscle in the upper arm may appear with complete tears as well.

Your medical provider will inspect your upper arm, looking for signs of a biceps tear.  During examination, he or she may notice pain in front of the shoulder or with rotating the arm, and tenderness when you contract the biceps muscle.  MRIs can aid in diagnosing a biceps tendon disorder by showing a tear in the tendon or fluid and inflammation around the tendon.

Symptoms from the biceps tendon problem will often resolve over time with anti-inflammatory medication, activity modification, and physical therapy.  Sometimes, your medical provider will offer a cortisone injection into the biceps tendon to reduce inflammation and pain.

If symptoms persist, you may be a candidate for a procedure called biceps tenodesis. Using small incisions, your surgeon will detach the tendon from the socket and secure it to the humerus.

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