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What is a Biceps Tendon Rupture?

A ruptured biceps tendon is when the attachment site of the biceps muscle to the bone is torn, either partially or completely. This can occur in multiple locations as the biceps muscle has three different attachment sites to bones. At the proximal (nearer to the body) portion of the biceps muscle, the are two separate tendons that attach to different parts of a bone that make up part of the shoulder, the scapula. Most people think of the scapula as only the shoulder blade, but it is more than that as this bone extends to the top of the shoulder joint and provides the attachment site for many muscles. At the distal (further away from the body) end of the biceps brachii muscle, it is attached via a tendon to one of the forearm bones, the radius. A Biceps Tendon Rupture will be classified as either proximal or distal, depending on the location of the tear. Biceps tendon tears will also be grade on their severity:

  • Grade I: overstretching of the tendon with fraying or microtears. This usually presents with significant pain but no loss of range of motion or strength
  • Grade II: With this grade of rupture, a partial tear has occurred to the biceps tendon, causing some weakness to be present.
  • Grade III; a complete tear of a Biceps tendon leading to complete loss of motion of the elbow and will most likely require surgical intervention

What Causes a Ruptured Bicep?

Biceps tears are usually the result of an overuse injury. Acute injuries to the shoulder and elbow also place these tendons at risk. Some causes and other risk factors are:

  • Heavy sporting activities
  • Overuse from conditions especially involving heavy lifting
  • Deterioration from age
  • Smoking
  • Long-term corticosteroid use
  • Poor circulation
  • Previous injuries to the upper arm
Woman with upper arm pain.

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Ruptured Bicep | Symptoms of a Bicep Tendon Tear

The symptoms of a biceps tear will usually be immediately felt. You may have heard a “popping sound” at the time of injury. A sign that your distal biceps has torn from its attachment site on the radius is when you present with something called ‘Pop-eye Syndrome.” This is indicative of a complete detachment of the muscle from its distal attachment site on the radius. The muscle, still attached superiorly can still contract, but instead of bending the elbow the muscle just gets shorter and curls up, resulting in a huge bulge in the middle of the upper arm, resembling Pop-eye’s arms after he would eat spinach. Other symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Popping sound
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Weakness in arm
  • Muscle cramping or spasms
If You Are Experiencing Symptoms, Schedule an Appointment Dr. Burke Orthopedics Immediately.
Human arm anatomy.

How to Treat a Ruptured Bicep

Treatment for a ruptured biceps tendon depends solely on the severity of the tear. A complete tear will almost always require surgery in order to fix the injury. But if the tear is not complete and not causing significant pain, discomfort, or dysfunction, conservative measures including a course of physical therapy will often be enough to allow the injury to heal, strengthen and return to function. Besides physical therapy, other conservative measure that will be recommended are:

  • Rest
  • Icing the area
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication

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Disclaimer: Please note all medical information contained within this website should never be interpreted as a diagnosis or recommendation of treatment. If a diagnosis is needed, contact Dr. Burke Orthopedics for a personalized consultation. Information shared in testimonials and reviews are specific to that particular patient and may not be representative of the experience of others.