Inflammation of the Biceps Tendon at the Elbow

In this Article

Symptoms

Symptoms of inflammation of the biceps tendon at the elbow include:

  • Stiffness and soreness on the inside of the elbow, near the end of the biceps muscle
  • Pain that is dull most of the time but get sharper when you try to lift something, bend and straighten the elbow, or twist the lower part of your arm

A torn biceps tendon is when the tendon pulls partially or fully away from the bone. Symptoms of a biceps tendon tear at the elbow may include:

  • A “popping” sensation at the front of the elbow at the time of injury
  • Sharp pain at the time of injury. There may or may not be pain after the injury. Sometimes the pain goes away after a tendon tears completely
  • Swelling or bruising in the front of the elbow or the part of the arm right below the elbow
  • A bump near the top of the biceps muscle
  • A gap in the front of the elbow that makes it look like your upper and lower arm are not connected under the skin
  • Weakness when you try to bend your arm or twist the lower part of your arm. The elbow will probably still work because of the other muscles and tendons in your arm

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor if you have any symptoms of inflammation or injury of the biceps tendon. A torn biceps tendon will likely need surgery, which is best to do as soon as possible after the injury.

Causes

Inflammation and injury to the tendon at the elbow is uncommon. When it happens, Is it most likely to be caused by:

  • Lifting things like furniture, boxes, or weights that are too heavy for the biceps muscle and force the arm to straighten.
  • Bearing weight or resistance with the arm stretched out straight, or when holding a heavy weight with the arm stretched out straight and pushing to keep the weight up.

Other things that can increase the risk for inflammation and damage include using tobacco products and frequent use of steroid medicines.

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose a tendon injury, the doctor will likely:

  • Ask about what happened, where the pain is, and when it hurts most.
  • Look at your arm and ask you to move it in certain ways.
  • Have you get an x-ray to see if there is any other problem causing the elbow pain, or order an MRI or ultrasound if it seems that the tendon is torn and surgery may be needed. These tests can show where the damage is and how bad it is.

Treatments

Treatment will depend on how serious the tear is, but may include any of the following:

  • Rest. Let the tendon heal by taking a break from your usual activities that put pressure on your biceps or causes pain. Even for mild tendinitis, it is a good idea to switch to activities.
  • Ice. Ice the injury right after it happens and while it is healing. Put ice in a towel or cloth and place it on the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times a day. Don’t put ice directly on your skin. When you start back to your usual activities, it may help to ice the injured area after activity to control pain and swelling.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID). NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can reduce pain and swelling.
  • Exercise and physical therapy. Exercises that can strengthen the biceps muscles and teach proper form can help to prevent further problems. If the tendon was torn and wasn’t repaired with surgery, you may always have some weakness in that arm.
  • Surgery. For severe tears, the doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may involve tendon repair or replacement.

Prevention

It’s not always possible to prevent injuries. But you can lower your risk of inflammation or injury of the biceps tendon at the elbow in these ways:

  • Avoid lifting things that are too heavy for you. Know your limits and don’t push your muscles to do what they are not ready to do.
  • If you are an athlete, be sure to warm up and stretch properly before your activity. Keep your muscles strong enough to do what your sport requires them to do.
  • Take extra care to make sure you are ready for exercises that are done with out-stretched arms.

Support and Resources

American Academy of Orthoapedic Surgeons, “Biceps Tendon Tear at the Elbow”:
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00376

What is Inflammation of the Biceps Tendon at the Elbow?

The biceps is the large muscle at the front of the upper arm. It is attached to the forearm by a thick cord of fiber called the biceps tendon.

The biceps tendon can become inflamed or injured when it is overused or too much pressure is suddenly put on the tendon. Injuries often happen when someone is carrying a lot of weight with the arm stretched out straight, or when the weight pushes the arm straight. This puts pressure on the tendon instead of the biceps muscle.