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Biceps tendon tear

Find out what causes a bicep tendon tear and how it can be treated

If you have pain in your upper arm, between the shoulder and elbow, it may be caused by a tear in one of the tendons connected to the biceps muscle. Your biceps muscle is located on the front part of your upper arm and is attached to the bones in your arm, elbow and shoulder by tough connective tissues called tendons. Should you tear a biceps tendon, you may experience a sharp pain near the affected area. The main function of your biceps muscle is to flex (bend) and supinate (stretch) your forearm, and anything that limits this function can impact on your ability to use your arm normally.

There are a number of causes of biceps tendon pain, one of which is a biceps tendon tear, but for expert assessment, diagnosis and advice on treatment from one of our highly-experienced orthopaedic Consultants, please contact us to book your appointment at a time that is convenient for you.

One of the most common reasons for biceps tendon pain is a tendon tear (sometimes also referred to as a biceps tendon rupture). Tendons connect muscle to bone, and a tear can cause pain and a reduction in movement of the affected area.

Types of injuries that may cause a tendon to tear include falling down onto an outstretched arm or lifting a heavy weight at an awkward or unusual angle. Depending on the severity of the injury, a biceps tear can be partial or complete; a complete tear meaning that the tendon has completely torn away from the bone.

A biceps tendon tear can occur at either your shoulder or elbow.

Shoulder (proximal) biceps tear

Your biceps muscle is attached to your shoulder by two tendons. The first of these, called the “long head” tendon, attaches the muscle to the top of your shoulder socket at what is called the glenoid cavity. The second of these, called the “short head” tendon attaches the muscle to a part of your shoulder blade (scapula) known as the coracoid process. It should be noted that a tear in the short head tendon is extremely uncommon.

Elbow (distal) biceps tear

While the biceps muscle attaches to your shoulder by two tendons, only one tendon attaches it to your elbow, the distal biceps tendon. A tear in this tendon is rare, although it may happen when an extremely heavy weight is lifted, or through specific injury.

There are many different causes of pain in the shoulder, upper arm and elbow, and it can be challenging to self-diagnose. That is why we always advise you book an appointment at a hospital nearest to you, to get an accurate diagnosis from a highly-experienced consultant, fast.

The most common symptom of a biceps tendon tear is a severe pain in the upper part of your arm, near either the elbow or shoulder. This may occur immediately after an unusual movement or strain has been put on your arm, such as moving a far heavier weight than usual (when moving furniture for example). You may also have:

  • A sudden onset of weakness in your arm
  • Difficulty when trying to move your arm (this is often particularly noticeable when rotating your arm)
  • An unusual shape to the front of your biceps muscle (this is often referred to as “Popeye muscle” due to its abnormal size and shape)

Pain cause by a biceps tendon tear can usually be treated effectively using one of the following methods:

  • Ice: As with many injuries, placing a cold ice pack on the affected area may help to reduce swelling and pain.

  • Medication: Painkillers, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

  • Physiotherapy: Your consultant may recommend that you see a physiotherapist for help in your recovery.

  • Rest: Often, the best thing you can do to aid recovery is to rest the affected area, and this can take the potential risk of any additional strain or injury away.

However, there are times when surgery may be required to repair a torn tendon and/or reattach it to the bone, and this will depend upon the extent of the tear. Should surgery be necessary, this will be explained in detail by your Consultant and you will have the chance to ask them any questions you may have.

It is easy to book an appointment with one of our orthopaedic surgeons today, at a time that is convenient for you. If you’ve been struggling with pain in your upper arm, shoulder or elbow, why not book a time to come and talk to one of our specialists?

If you’ve been dealing with pain and/or less movement in your upper arm for a while, the last thing you want is to have to wait any longer for it to be treated. We have no waiting lists, meaning that you can be seen by one of our specialists promptly and receive any treatment you need without undue delay.

Specialists offering Biceps tendon tear

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Mr Michael Alan Charles Craigen

Consultant Orthopaedic & Hand Surgeon

MB BS, FRCS London, FRCS Edinburgh, FRCS Orthopaedics, Dip.Hand Surg (Euro)

The Priory Hospital

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Mr Kim Chan

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

MB ChB, ChM, FRCS(Tr&Orth)

Ross Hall Hospital 1 more Kings Park Hospital

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Mr Matthew Barrett

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

MBBCh, MRCS, FRCS (Tr & Orth)

The Winterbourne Hospital 1 more The Harbour Hospital

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Mr Kush Narang

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

MBBS MS(Orth), FRCS(Eng), FRCS(Ed), FRCS(Glas), FRCS (Tr & Orth)

Goring Hall Hospital

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Mr Nawfal Al-Hadithy

Trauma & Orthopaedic Consultant

MBBS, BSc, MSc Sports & Exercise Medicine, Diploma in Medical Education, FRCS (Tr & Orth)

Bishops Wood Hospital 1 more The Clementine Churchill Hospital

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