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What Is a Ruptured Biceps Tendon?

The biceps tendon attaches the biceps muscle in the upper arm to the bones in the shoulder and elbow. This muscle allows the forearm to rotate and the elbow to bend. If direct force is applied to the biceps muscle when the elbow is flexed – such as when the arm is extended to break a fall – the biceps tendon can fray or tear. A ruptured biceps tendon can occur at the shoulder (proximally) or at the elbow (distally).

What are the symptoms of a ruptured biceps tendon?

A ruptured biceps tendon can cause a loss of muscle strength in the arm as well as a sharp pain when the arm is rotated from a palm-down to a palm-up position. Sometimes, a “popping” sensation is felt as the tendon separates from the bone. Also, because a damaged biceps tendon cannot keep the biceps muscle tight, a visible bulge (“Popeye muscle”) may form in the upper arm.

How is a ruptured biceps tendon treated?

Some people experience only mild discomfort and can function well with a ruptured biceps tendon. To enhance comfort as the damage heals gradually over time, a physician may recommend nonsurgical treatment, such as:

  • Ice applications – A cold pack can be applied to the painful area several times a day, for up to 20 minutes at a time, to relieve swelling.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Over-the-counter remedies such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen can be taken as needed to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Activity modifications – Heavy lifting and activities that involve raising the arm overhead should be temporarily avoided. A physician may also recommend wearing a sling to restrict motion and prevent further injury during the healing process.
  • Physical therapy – Targeted stretching and strengthening exercises can help restore arm and shoulder movement.

If the symptoms do not respond sufficiently to conservative treatment or if a full recovery of arm strength if required (i.e., in the case of an athlete or manual laborer), surgical repair may be recommended to re-anchor the torn tendon to the bone.

At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, we provide a full range of orthopedic treatments for biceps tendon ruptures. Our experienced team of specialists has helped thousands of patients find much-needed relief from painful conditions affecting the upper extremities.

To learn more about treatment options for a ruptured biceps tendon, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, today.