OrthoVirginia Blog

Bicep Tendon Tear

Alexander Croog, MD specializes in hand and upper extremities. He practices out of the Fair Oaks and Fairfax offices.

The biceps muscle is in the front of your upper arm. It helps you bend your elbow and rotate your arm. It also helps keep your shoulder stable.

Tendons attach muscles to bones. Your biceps tendons attach the biceps muscle to bones in the shoulder and in the elbow. If you tear the biceps tendon at the shoulder, you may lose some strength in your arm and be unable to forcefully turn your arm from palm down to palm up.

Many people can still function with a biceps tendon tear, and only need simple treatments to relieve symptoms. Some people require surgery to repair the torn tendon.

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula), and your collarbone (clavicle).

The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid. A combination of muscles and tendons keeps your arm bone centered in your shoulder socket. These tissues are called the rotator cuff. They cover the head of your upper arm bone and attach it to your shoulder blade.

The upper end of the biceps muscle has two tendons that attach it to bones in the shoulder. The long head attaches to the top of the shoulder socket (glenoid). The short head attaches to a bump on the shoulder blade called the coracoid process.

There are two main causes of biceps tendon tears: injury and overuse.

Injury If you fall hard on an outstretched arm or lift something too heavy, you can tear your biceps tendon.

Overuse Many tears are the result of a wearing down and fraying of the tendon that occurs slowly over time. This naturally occurs as we age. It can be worsened by overuse - repeating the same shoulder motions again and again.

Overuse can cause a range of shoulder problems, including tendonitis, shoulder impingement, and rotator cuff injuries. Having any of these conditions puts more stress on the biceps tendon, making it more likely to weaken or tear.

Risk Factors Your risk for a tendon tear increases with:

Age. Older people have put more years of wear and tear on their tendons than younger people.

Heavy overhead activities. Too much load during weightlifting is a prime example of this risk, but many jobs require heavy overhead lifting and put excess wear and tear on the tendons.

Shoulder overuse. Repetitive overhead sports - such as swimming or tennis - can cause more tendon wear and tear.

Smoking. Nicotine use can affect nutrition in the tendon.

Corticosteroid medications. Using corticosteroids has been linked to increased muscle and tendon weakness.

For more information on the symptoms and treatment of a bicep tendon tear go to: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00031