Bicep Tear at the Shoulder
Your biceps muscle is secured to the top of your shoulder by tendons that can become torn, stretched, inflamed, and may even rupture. The typical cause of a bicep tendon injury is repetitive strain – although abrupt trauma can also damage it.
Heavy lifting, an odd movement, twisting of the upper arm, and sports that involve repeated use of the biceps can all lead to a bicep tendon injury and tear.
What Happens if My Bicep Tendon Tears Completely?
Bicep tendon tears can be partial or complete. A complete tear (rupture) will cause your bicep muscle to retract into a ball in the upper arm. This is called a “Popeye deformity” after the once-popular cartoon character.
Notably, you will likely still be able to use your arm. This is because in almost all cases, only one of the two proximal biceps tendons securing your biceps muscle to the shoulder is damaged: the long head biceps tendon, which connects to the top of the shoulder socket. The short head biceps tendon, which connects to the coracoid process atop the shoulder blade, remains in place, offering some support. Also, there is a second, shorter tendon – the distal biceps tendon – that helps the biceps muscle stay attached to bone in your forearm.
Signs & Symptoms of a Bicep Tear
Shoulder pain and impaired range of motion are the most common complaints with a biceps tendon injury.
The signs and symptoms you experience will depend on how significant the tendon tear is. When the bicep tendon is frayed or irritated, your symptoms may be mild to moderate. A complete tear of the tendon can result in moderate to severe symptoms, including the most noticeable sign of a rupture: a painful bulge of muscle in the upper arm, the so-called Popeye deformity. This is often preceded by an audible snap or popping sound.
Signs and symptoms of a bicep tear at the shoulder include:
- Loss of arm strength
- Pain at the front of the shoulder
- Pain when rotating your arm outward (to a palm-up position) or inward (to a palm-down position)
- Difficulty reaching backwards
- Muscle spasms in the biceps muscle during activity
- Audible pop or snap sound at the moment of injury
- Bulge in the upper arm that is painful (Popeye deformity)
- Sudden, sharp pain in the upper arm
Diagnosis of a Bicep Tendon Injury
A complete bicep tear at the shoulder is usually apparent due to the telltale muscle bulge in your upper arm. The bulge may become more obvious when you contract the muscle. Partial tears, tendonitis, or other problems may not produce a bulge, but may be evident in the symptoms you are experiencing.
Your doctor will examine you, discuss your symptoms at length, as well as take a thorough medical history. X-rays may be used to rule out fractures or other conditions. In many cases, an MRI may be ordered to take a look at the extent of a possible soft tissue injury.
Treating Bicep Tears
The good news is that bicep tears, including a complete rupture, can heal on its own over time with simple, nonsurgical treatments.
This typically begins with corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and alleviate your shoulder pain. At The Shoulder Institute at ORTHOKnox, Dr. David Hovis uses ultrasound to guide the needle to the precise location for the most effective results. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy are important and can possibly disrupt the cycle of pain and relieve your symptoms for good.
However, if these conservative measures fail to bring relief, arthroscopic bicep repair surgery may be necessary to permanently restore pain-free movement of your arm and shoulder.
Bicep Tear Surgeon in Knoxville and Athens, TN
Do you suspect you or a loved one has suffered a bicep tear? Why not find out for sure what’s wrong with your shoulder by calling The Shoulder Institute at ORTHOKnox at (865) 251-3030. Or simply request an appointment now.