How to Identify a Bicep Tear

Man holding bicep

Bicep tears are common, but many people fail to realize that the pain they’re feeling is actually caused by their bicep, not their shoulder. 

You may not realize it, but you put a lot of strain on your shoulders when lifting weights or playing common sports like baseball or football. Although the shoulder joint is strong and flexible, it sometimes buckles under the weight of overuse or a sudden injury. However, just because you’re experiencing shoulder pain, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing an issue with the joint itself. A bicep tear can also cause severe shoulder pain.

That may seem surprising, since when you think of your bicep you likely think of your upper arm. And it’s true that your bicep muscle sits at the front of your upper arm, but that doesn’t mean it can’t cause pain elsewhere. In fact, your bicep works with your shoulder thanks to two tendons that attach the muscle to the scapula bone of the shoulder. Another tendon also links the muscle to the radius bone at the elbow. The muscle and tendons are what gives your shoulder its mobility. Although the tendons and muscle are durable, an injury or repetitive motions can lead to painful tears. At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, we’ve treated many bicep tears and can help you on the road to recovery.

What a bicep tear feels like

Bicep tears can either be partial or complete. Partial tears mean only part of the muscle or tendons are torn. In a complete tear, the bicep tendon tears into completely separate pieces. 

Most often, tears are caused by an injury, such as lifting a heavy object or a fall. However, athletes who regularly perform overhead motions, such as throwing a baseball, are also particularly vulnerable to bicep ruptures. A bicep tear comes with some noticeable symptoms that can help you identify your injury as a bicep tear rather than a shoulder injury. These are:

Sharp pain. As your bicep tears, you’ll likely feel a sudden jolt of pain either near your shoulder or near your elbow. This pain occurs whether you suffered a partial tear or a complete tear. 

Popping sound. Along with pain, the torn bicep may produce a popping sound when injured.

Bruising. After a tear, you may notice bruising, swelling, and a feeling of warmth in your upper arm that could extend to your elbow.

Lingering pain. A tear could develop over time due to overuse. In this case, instead of sudden, sharp pain, the pain and tenderness in the arm and shoulder will gradually increase if the tear isn’t treated.

Weakness in the shoulder and arm. A bicep tear weakens your arm and shoulder, such that you can’t perform routine tasks. One telltale sign of a bicep tear is that you cannot rotate the palm of your hand either up or down when your arm is straightened.

Abnormal bulge. When the tendons cannot hold the muscles in place, the muscles in the upper arm may bulge outward in what is termed the “Popeye muscle.” You may see a pronounced dent closer to your shoulder. too. 

Bicep tear treatment

Treatment options vary depending on whether the bicep tear is a partial tear or a complete and based on the age and activity level of the patient. Tears of the tendons connected to the shoulder are most common, and are termed proximal bicep ruptures. The alternative is a distal bicep tendon tear, which occurs when the tendon attached to the elbow is injured. 

Younger, active patients benefit greatly from arthroscopic surgery to repair the damaged tendon. Older, less active patients may opt for conservative therapy instead, which includes rest, icing, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Once healed — whether using surgery or a conservative approach — you’ll undergo an extensive physical therapy program guided by the therapists to get your shoulder back to a normal range of motion. Although you’ll feel significant improvement in four to six weeks, a complete recovery usually takes three to four months.

Heal your bicep tear today!

An aching shoulder can greatly affect your quality of life. But the orthopedists at New York Bone & Joint can diagnose and treat your shoulder, whether your injury is due to a bicep tear or not, and get you back to normal again. Contact us for a consultation.

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