Torn Bicep Tendon Injuries And How Physical Therapy Can Help

What are bicep tendon tear injuries?


1. Proximal biceps tendon tear at shoulder

This injury occurs when one of the tendons that attaches the bicep to the shoulder tears. The long head tendon is more likely to tear than the short head tendon. This type of tear often starts as normal tendon fraying, but can also tear if you get injured.


2. Distal biceps tendonitis and tear at the elbow

A bicep tendon tear at the elbow usually happens when the elbow is pushed straight against a heavy weight. This stress can tear the tendon from the bone, and usually causes a complete tear.

When you tear your bicep tendon at the elbow, your other arm muscles will compensate, so you’ll still have full range of motion. However, your arm will most likely lose strength if the tendon is not repaired.


3. Tendonitis

Tendonitis is the inflammation or irritation of the long head of the bicep tendon. This can cause microtears. As with distal biceps tendonitis, tendonitis of the long head of the biceps tendon is usually due to normal wear and tear, but can also be made worse by repetitive motion. It often happens with other shoulder problems, such as arthritis, shoulder impingement, and chronic shoulder dislocation.

Torn bicep tendon symptoms

  • a “pop” or tearing sensation when the injury happens

  • warmth around the injury

  • swelling

  • bruising

  • pain or ache at the injury site, and throughout your arm

  • arm weakness

  • difficulty turning your palm

  • fatigue or increased pain in your arm when you do repetitive activity

  • bulge in your upper arm, because the bicep is no longer being held in place

Causes of a torn bicep tendon

Injuries might be caused by lifting something heavy or falling on your arm. Most tears of the elbow bicep tendon happen because of an injury.

Overuse can cause the tendons to wear down or fray over time. This happens naturally as you age. It may also be made worse by repetitive motion, and is common in people who participate in sports such as weightlifting, tennis, or swimming.

Diagnosing a torn bicep tendon

To diagnose a torn bicep tendon, a doctor will first take a medical history. They’ll ask about your symptoms, whether you had any recent injuries, and when the pain began.

Then they’ll do a physical exam to test your range of motion and strength. During these tests, they’ll see if you have pain or difficulty with certain movements, especially rotations. They’ll also look at your arm for swelling, bruising, or bulging.

A history and physical exam are often enough to diagnose a bicep tendon tear. However, your doctor might also do an X-ray to help rule out any bone injuries, or an MRI to see if the tear is partial or complete.


How Can Physical therapy Help?

Physical therapy can help you regain strength and range of motion after a bicep tendon injury. A physical therapist will take you through a series of motions designed to help heal your injury and relieve pain.

A physical therapist or your doctor might also give you exercises to do at home when you’re healed enough to do so. These might include exercises to flex and extend your arm, arm rotations, and strength-building exercises like bicep curls.


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