Torn Biceps Tendon at the Elbow

Georgia Hand, Shoulder, and Elbow

You agreed to help your brother move. As you picked up the couch, you heard a pop in your arm followed by instant pain. Like most of us, you subconsciously use your arms every day, without even thinking about what your muscles and tendons are doing. However, now you’re sure that something is wrong. You may have torn your biceps tendon at the elbow. And while this injury is rare, it does happen.
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Our expert team at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow in Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia knows how to properly care for this injury. Contact one of our offices today to learn more about what can be done. In the meantime, we’ve included some helpful information below regarding torn biceps tendon at the elbow.  

What Is a Biceps Tendon Tear?

A biceps tendon tear may occur in two locations. A biceps tendon tear at the shoulder is a rupture of the proximal biceps tendon. A biceps tendon tear at the elbow is a rupture of the distal biceps tendon, which is the topic of this summary. 

This tendon connects the biceps muscles to the bones in your shoulder and elbow and gives you the ability to bend the elbow and rotate your forearm. If this tendon is torn, you will have difficulty rotating your hand from a palm down to a palm up position. You may also notice an altered or asymmetric appearance of your biceps muscle when looking in the mirror.

There are two forms of biceps tendon tears:

  1. A partial tear where the tear has not completely broken or separated the tendon from the bone.
  2. A complete tear where the tendon is broken or separated into two separate parts.

Symptoms of a Torn Biceps Tendon at the Elbow

Since a torn biceps at the elbow is not a common injury, knowing the symptoms can help you prevent further damage. Torn biceps at the elbow symptoms may include:

  • Sudden and severe pain in your elbow
  • Hearing a pop at the time of tearing
  • Swelling
  • Elbow weakness
  • Noticeable bruising
  • Noticeable deformity or asymmetric to the biceps muscle when looking in the mirror
  • Difficulty rotating forearm from palm down to palm up position

Additionally, you may notice a bulge in the upper region of your arm. This occurs because your tendon is no longer holding the muscle properly in place. 

Due to the absence of your tendon, there may also be a gap in the front of the elbow. This is something that your specialist will be looking for during your examination.

Causes of a Torn Biceps Tendon

An injury can cause a tear if your elbow is forced against resistance. This can happen if you fall suddenly with your arm outstretched.  Lifting heavy objects can also cause your biceps tendon to tear.

Additionally, preexisting conditions such as tendonitis can weaken your biceps tendon, which can eventually lead to a tear. Other facets such as smoking, advancing age, heavy overhead activities, and the use of certain antibiotics, anabolic steroids, or steroid injections can contribute to a tear.

How Is a Biceps Tear at the Elbow Diagnosed?

Your physician will discuss your symptoms, review your medical history, and conduct a complete physical examination. As mentioned earlier, your physician will look for a gap in the front of your elbow. You will also be asked to bend your arm and tighten your biceps muscle to see if you have a partial tear.

Additionally, x-rays may be taken to verify that there are no other conditions contributing to your pain. An MRI can show whether your tear is partial or complete.

Treatment Options for Biceps Tendon Tears at the Elbow

While a distal biceps tendon tear can be a serious injury, it doesn’t always require surgical intervention. Many times, it can be treated by nonsurgical measures, especially if you receive assistance from a specialist early on. These nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Modifying your activity
  • Nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medication
  • Stretching, flexibility, and strengthening exercises to improve your range of motion and restore strength
  • Physical therapy

If your arm is not responding efficiently to the conservative treatment options, then surgery may be recommended. For those whose biceps functions are essential for their occupation or hobbies such as manual laborers or athletes, surgery may be the best option.  

Post-Surgical Care for Biceps Tendon Tears

If surgery is required, then following the post-surgical care instructions is crucial to your recovery process. After your surgery, you will be provided with flexibility and strengthening exercises to boost and improve your elbow’s range of motion.

Risks and Complications of Biceps Tendon Tear Surgery

While complications are not commonly experienced, they may include the following:

  • Formation of new bone
  • Weakness and numbness in your forearm
  • Weakness of finger/thumb/wrist muscles
  • Limited/restricted movement
  • Retearing of the tendon

Tearing your biceps tendon at the elbow can be a frightening experience. Thankfully, it can be treated conservatively. The sooner you see a specialist, the faster you will recover. 

Schedule an appointment at either one of our Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow offices. We are conveniently located in Marietta and Atlanta, GA. Our skilled specialists look forward to helping you with the recovery of your injury.

Medically reviewed by

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Plastic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon