Bicep Tendon Tear at Elbow

Biceps TendonitisThe Bicep tendon is the connective tissue that connects the biceps muscles to the bones.  The proximal side of the tendon attaches to the shoulder, and the distal ends of the tendon attach to the forearm bones.  Tendons are important connective tissues that connect bones to muscles allowing us to perform complex movements.  Any time a tendon is damaged movement of the effected limb is going to be painful with some ranges of motion not being possible.  The distal bicep tendon attaches the bicep muscle to the forearm.  There is a small bump called the radial tuberosity near the elbow on the radius bone in which the tendon attaches.

Symptoms of a Bicep Tendon tear at the Elbow

Bicep tendon tears at the elbow are rare, and when they happen, they are rarely partial tears. The bicep tendon when it tears at the elbow will often completely detach from the radial tuberosity of the radius bone in the forearm.  The arm will still function due to other tissues and muscles allowing for movement, but it will be painful and there will be almost half of the strength of the arm gone with much of the strength loss coming from twisting motions of the forearm.  You may hear an audible popping noise when the tendon tears away from the bone and the pain will be exquisite and last for weeks.  There will be difficulty bending the arm, discoloration from bruising, and deformation from the bicep muscle retracting up towards the shoulder leaving a bulge of accumulated muscle and a gap where muscle used to be.

Treatment of a Bicep Tendon Tear at the Elbow

Conservative treatment for a Bicep tendon tear at the Elbow

If full use of your arm is not necessary, such as you are a high-risk patient and the tear is in your non-dominate arm, then palliative care with NSAIDs and rest can help with the pain and swelling.  Physical therapy can be utilized to strengthen surrounding tissues and help carry more load.  Conservative treatment will not bring back full function of the upper extremity.

Surgical treatment for a Bicep tendon tear at the elbow

Bicep deformitySurgical treatment for a bicep tendon tear at the elbow is needed to restore strength to the arm.  The tendon retracts and the bicep tendon will start to permanently atrophy, so surgical correction needs to be done quickly.  There are two methods of correction.  One involves drilling holes into the radius and tying the tendon to the bone with sutures.  The other method would be to put metal anchors into the bone that the tendon will be attached to.  Either way the tendon will eventually reattach to the bone in a successful repair.  In a timely correction the majority of patients make a full recovery of range of motion and strength if they follow the post-operative recovery instructions.


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