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Conditions & Treatments

Biceps Tendon Tears


The biceps muscle allows you to bend and rotate your arm. The biceps muscle is attached by tendons to bones at the shoulder and the elbow. The upper end of biceps muscle has two tendons that attach at two points on the shoulder- the proximal biceps tendon. This tendon attaches to the rim of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket called the labrum.

The biceps tendon at the elbow attaches to the upper arm bone at the elbow. This is called the Distal Biceps tendon. Tendons do not have the capacity of self-repair.

What causes a tear of the biceps tendon?

Injury and overuse are the most common reasons for a torn biceps tendon. Typically, a fall on an outstretched arm, an awkward twisting motion, or lifting a heavy object can cause a tendon tear.

Overuse and repetitive motions cause wear and tear on the tendon causing microtears called tendonitis. Over time, with age and without modification of repetitive activities, the tendon will fray and eventually tear.

About Tendon tears (also called ruptures)

Biceps tendon tears are injuries to the biceps muscle that result in a complete or partial detachment of the tendon from the bone. The most common tear is a proximal biceps tendon tear at the shoulder.

Most patients experience shoulder pain and tendonitis before a before a rupture. It is usually not very painful and causes a minor loss of function or weakness. These are managed with conservative treatment including rest and over the counter pain medication.

A distal biceps tendon tear is a tear where the tendon attaches to the upper arm bone at the elbow, due to trauma; however, is less common than a tendon tear at the proximal bicep. Nevertheless, it is acutely painful and causes a loss of motion in the elbow joint. A distal biceps tear usually requires surgery within two to three weeks after the injury to restore complete function.


  • a pop or snapping sound
  • pain, swelling and bruising
  • weakness of the biceps muscle at the shoulder or elbow


Your OANC orthopedic surgeon will discuss the history of your shoulder pain and symptoms They will perform specific range of motion testing and twisting and order imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis including an ultrasound, x-ray and MRI to distinguish a complete from a partial tear.

What are the treatment options?

For proximal biceps tears nonsurgical treatment with over the counter pain medication, rest, and ice packs should relieve symptoms and improve function. Surgery will often be recommended when the patient participates in very active and participates in athletics, and when chronic pain fails to resolve with nonsurgical treatment.

Patients with a distal biceps tear will be prescribed rest and over the counter pain medications, and surgery within 2-3 weeks of the injury. Rehabilitation will be prescribed to restore function and range of motion.

The majority of patients who have surgery for a tendon tear will be able to regain full strength and motion. The goal is to relieve pain and restore function. Surgery is safe with a low risk for complications.

The choice of surgical procedure will depend on the location of your tear and the type of tear. Recovery time is determined by the type of surgery you require.

Orthopedic Associates of Northern California has offices in Chico California. You can expect compassionate care from our highly skilled team of orthopedic surgeons. Call us today to schedule a consultation to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

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