Bicep tendon tears at the elbow are uncommon and are often caused by sudden injury.
The biceps muscle is located in the front of your upper arm and attached to the bones of the shoulder and elbow by tendons. The tendon at the elbow attaches to a part of the radius bone called the radial tuberosity and is called the distal biceps tendon.
A torn bicep tendon at the elbow will not grow back to the bone and heal; however, it is still possible to bend the elbow without the biceps tendon but it cannot fulfill all the functions of the elbow such as rotating the forearm from palm down to palm up.
A partial tear damages the soft tissue but does not completely sever the tendon. A complete tear will detach the tendon completely from its attachment point at the bone. In most cases, tears of the distal biceps tendon are complete and the entire muscle is detached from the bone and pulled toward the shoulder.
The main cause of a distal bicep tendon tear is a sudden injury and is rarely associated with other medical conditions. Men age 30 years or older are more likely to tear the distal biceps tendon. Smoking and corticosteroid medications have been linked to increased muscle and tendon weakness.
Torn bicep tendon symptoms
- There is often a “pop” at the elbow when the tendon ruptures
- Pain is severe at first but often subsides after a week or two
- Swelling in the front of the elbow
- Visible bruising in the elbow and forearm
- Weakness in bending of the elbow
- Weakness in twisting the forearm
- A bulge in the upper part of the arm
- A gap in the front of the elbow created by the absence of the tendon
To determine whether you have a bicep tendon tear at the elbow, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history and when you started experiencing pain, have you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. Sometimes an X-ray, ultrasound or MRI will be necessary to confirm diagnosis.
Nonsurgical treatment options focus on relieving pain and maintaining arm function. Treatment options includes:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy
Surgery to repair the tendon should be performed during the first two to three weeks after injury.
Surgery can be performed through an incision in the front of your elbow, which allows the tendon to be reattached. There are many screws and devices, which can be used by the surgeon to reattach the tendon.
Recovery from a torn bicep tendon
Recovery can take three to six months. Immediately after surgery a locked elbow brace will be applied to prevent elbow flexion and extension. Gradually the elbow range of motion will be allowed until full range of motion is achieved. Then strengthening will be allowed. Most people can return to full duty by six months.
Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow treatment at OrthoIndy.
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