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Biceps Tendinitis

Biceps Tendinitis Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

The term bicep tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendons of the biceps. Tendons are strong, cord-like connective tissues, connecting muscle to bone. The long head of the biceps tendon is most commonly affected in this condition. 

Injury or trauma to the arm can lead to the development of tendinitis at the elbow or shoulder level. However, tendinitis at the shoulder level is more common. Biceps tendinitis is often accompanied by rotator cuff injury. Arthritis is also present in several tendinitis cases.

Treatment for bicep tendinitis usually involves nonsurgical methods, like the RICE strategy. However, if symptoms fail to improve, surgical intervention is an option. Avoiding heavy lifting and repetitive motions is essential to speed up the recovery process.

What Does Biceps Tendinitis Look Like? 

Biceps tendon inflammation is due to partial or complete tearing of the tendon. The swollen and torn tendon appears as a projection over the upper part of the biceps. This bulge is known as “Popeye’s bulge.” 

The swelling over the shoulder region is quite evident. In some cases, you may also notice visible shoulder discoloration (blackening). 

What Causes Biceps Tendinitis?

Microtears in the tendon typically manifest as inflammation. A common cause that leads to the condition is degenerative changes or the wear and tear of the tendons as you age. Performing repetitive motions that lead to bicep muscle overuse is another reason that causes bicep tendonitis.

Other reasons which can lead to the wear and tear of the biceps tendon:

  • Sports injuries
  • Injury/trauma 
  • Shoulder dislocation 
  • Postural issues 
  • Primary impingement syndrome

Impingement syndrome of the shoulder is a condition in which the tendons become trapped in the shoulder joint leading to pain and inflammation. 

Risk Factors for Biceps Tendinitis 

While the primary cause of bicep tendonitis is exerting repetitive strain on the bicep tendons, some other risk factors increase your chances of developing biceps tendinitis:

  • Old age – Bicep tendons are prone to weakening as you age
  • Smoking – Nicotine use can weaken or even rupture your bicep tendons
  • Repetitive use of the shoulder, as in swimming and tennis 
  • Heavy lifting – Lifting weights or objects at work can cause excessive wear and tear on the bicep tendons

Symptoms of Biceps Tendinitis

The most commonly observed symptoms of biceps tendinitis are:

  • Pain that aggravates during movement (especially overhead movement) 
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Reduced mobility of arm/shoulder
  • Snapping sensation on moving the arm
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Discomfort on arm rotation

The long head of the biceps brachii tendon is regarded as an evident pain generator in the shoulder. 

How Is Biceps Tendinitis Diagnosed? 

The diagnosis of biceps tendinitis is made by physical examination and radiographic imaging. A history of injury/trauma and palpation of the sore biceps could indicate tendon tears. Your physician will likely examine the mobility of the affected arm and order X-rays and MRI scans to reach a diagnosis. Yergason’s test is a specific movement test used to diagnose tendinopathies in the shoulder. 

Treatment Options

Treatment for bicep tendonitis typically depends upon the severity of the condition.

Nonsurgical Treatment 

The easiest way of relieving your shoulder pain is resting and applying cold to the painful site. 

You should avoid moving the arm and let it rest for optimal recovery. A few days off from work can speed up healing. Applying cold or ice to the inflamed bicep multiple times each day reduces inflammation and alleviates pain. You can also take help from NSAIDs or painkiller medications for pain and swelling relief. 

Cold therapy combined with analgesic medications can provide superior results. Compression and elevation of the affected tendon can also help treat the chronic inflammatory condition. 

An effective non-interventional treatment modality is physical therapy. A physiotherapy session can aid in improving the range of motion while enhancing localized blood flow. 

Corticosteroid injections are administered directly into the tendon, helping lower the inflammation and prevent further damage. 

Surgical Treatment

Complete rupture of the tendon needs surgical intervention. A bicep tendon surgery is carried out with the help of an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a miniature camera that helps the surgeon visualize the shoulder joint and the tendon.

The ruptured tendon is repaired surgically. The orthopedic surgeon usually makes a small incision to access the affected soft tissues. Distal biceps tears should be immediately referred to surgery as they can aggravate by a delay in surgery.

Recovery Time 

In general, cases of mild tendinitis resolve in a couple of weeks. However, in cases of surgery, the healing time is prolonged. While you may be able to return to your usual working routine within a few weeks, complete recovery can take several months.

During this time, you might need to wear a brace to provide support to the tendons, perform specific exercises, take painkiller medications, go through physical therapy, and modify your lifestyle to prevent putting any strain on your arm.

How Can I Prevent Biceps Tendinitis?

You can follow these steps to prevent biceps tendinitis:

  • Avoid nicotine and smoking
  • Strengthen your bicep muscles with exercises like bicep curls
  • Maintain proper form during sporting activities like swimming
  • Avoid continuous overhead work 
  • Warm up and stretch before playing and working out

Expert Biceps Care At Raleigh Orthopaedic

Raleigh Orthopaedic is a comprehensive orthopedic care facility that deals with all soft and hard tissue pathologies. The highly trained professionals in orthopedic care are experts at managing bicep tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, and related shoulder/arm injuries. Contact us today to book an appointment or visit us at one of our six locations across Wake County!

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