Key Points about Bicep Tear or Strain
- A bicep tear or strain is a complete or partial tear of the bicep muscle or tendons, which can result in the loss of strength or mobility. A bicep strain or tear is caused by excess strain on the shoulder due to overuse.
- The most common symptom of a bicep tear or strain is pain in the upper arm, which can lead to bruising, muscle spasms, or loss of mobility and strength.
- Typically, nonsurgical treatments like rest, ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help provide relief from your symptoms.
A bicep tear or strain in the shoulder occurs when the tendon is completely or partially pulled from the bone.
Bicep tears or strains fall under one of the following classifications depending on severity:
- Grade 1: A grade 1 tear or strain is classified as a minor injury. It occurs when the bicep muscles or tendons are overstretched, but you do not lose strength or mobility.
- Grade 2: A grade 2 tear or strain is moderate, tearing in the biceps or tendons that causes some loss of strength or mobility.
- Grade 3: A grade 3 tear or strain is a complete rip or rupture of the bicep muscle or tendons. If you have a grade 3 tear or strain, you may need surgery to repair.
Bicep tear or strain causes
- Overuse: Some sports such as swimming, tennis, or football that require repetitive movement of the bicep in the shoulder or elbow and can lead to tears or strains.
- Acute injury: Moving or twisting the elbow in an unnatural or unfamiliar way can lead to a tear or strain.
Bicep tear or strain symptoms
The most common symptom is a pain in the upper arm with the potential of hearing a “popping” sound from the tendon tearing.
Other symptoms of a bicep tear or strain include:
- Muscle spasms
- Change in how the bicep looks in the upper arm
- Loss of mobility
- Weakness in the shoulder
Bicep tear or strain complications
Typically, complications with a bicep tear or strain are rare. Complications that can occur include:
- Decreased strength and range of motion
- Reduced range of motion
- Pain and infection — if surgery is required to repair a tear
Bicep tear or strain risk factors
You are more likely to sustain a bicep tear or strain risk if you:
- Participate in sports that require constant movement from the bicep, shoulder, and elbow. Examples are baseball or softball.
- Have poor circulation
- Do not warm up before exercising or sporting activities
- Have a previous shoulder or upper-arm injuries
Bicep tear or strain prevention
- Warm-up before any exercise or sporting activity
- Stretch after exercising or playing sports
- Avoid sudden intense strength training and build strength gradually
Bicep tear or strain diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose a bicep tear or strain during a physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will review your medical history to determine when symptoms began and potential activities that might have caused the sprain or strain. He or she will also look for a bump on the upper arm that indicates a bicep tear or strain.
To confirm your diagnosis, your doctor may also order an X-ray or MRI.
Bicep tear or strain treatment
In most cases, surgery is not needed to treat a bicep tear or strain. Nonsurgical treatments like rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications will relieve your symptoms.
Other nonsurgical treatment options for a bicep tear or strain include:
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation - Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) -Injecting platelets from your blood into the affected shoulder to speed up the recovery process.
If the tear is severe, surgical treatment may be needed. Candidates for surgery include:
- People who have jobs where a full range of motion in the shoulder is required
- Anyone who needs to have a full range of motion. For example, a professional baseball player.
- Anyone who has debilitating chronic pain or cramping near the shoulder
Surgical treatment options include:
- Bicep tenodesis: Screwing the ruptured end of the bicep tendon to the bone.
- Acromioplasty and direct tenodesis: During an acromioplasty, your doctor will remove a piece of the surface of the bone that is causing your pain. This procedure is typically performed on younger patients who have a history of shoulder injuries.
When should I see care?
If you are experiencing shoulder pain or other symptoms related to bicep tears or strains, contact your doctor to make an appointment with one of our experienced orthopedic specialists.
Your physician will develop a custom treatment plan for your case. You may be able to find relief with rest, lifestyle changes, and over-the-counter medications. When necessary, your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatories if your bicep tear or strain.
If you are active or participate in activities that put stress on your shoulder, make sure to take precautions like stretching or educating yourself on proper activity techniques to minimize your risk of developing bicep tears or strains.
Be sure to understand the treatment plan your doctor prescribes and report to your doctor immediately if symptoms change or worsen. The time it takes for the tear or strain to heal varies. Mild injuries can take over ten weeks to heal, and more severe injuries can take months.