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Bicep Tendonitis | Diagnosis and Treatment

woman with shoulder pain from bicep tendonitis

What Is Bicep Tendonitis?

Bicep tendonitis is a condition of the tendon of the bicep muscle, in which it becomes inflamed or irritated, increasing the likelihood of biceps tendon tear or damage to the rotator cuff tendons. It’s sometimes known as biceps tendinitis or biceps tendinopathy.

Repetitive overhead motion and sudden heavy lifting can cause bicep tendonitis. Athletes who participate in sports with repetitive upper body movements should be aware of this condition as it can lead to being out of action for months if not treated correctly.

Your biceps, or biceps brachii, are the muscles on the inside of your upper arm, between your shoulder and elbow. These muscles function to flex your forearm (bend at the elbow) and turn over (supinate) your hand.

Your biceps start as a single muscle mass at the elbow, then split into two “heads” – the long head and the short head. Each of these “heads” ends in a tendon which attaches to your scapula (shoulder blade).

Biceps tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendons of your bicep muscle, usually the upper (long) head of the biceps. At first, this tendon becomes irritated with some pain associated with the inflammation. 

If the process continues, the tendon sheath (covering) can become thickened. If not treated, it can lead to a complete tear in one of the bicep tendons – causing a “Popeye” deformity which looks like a bulge in your upper arm.

Distal biceps tendonitis, which is inflammation of the bicep tendon at your elbow, is rarer than proximal biceps tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons at your shoulder). Distal biceps tendonitis has similar causes to proximal biceps tendonitis, but the symptoms will be felt in the lower part of your upper arm, near your elbow.

Symptoms of bicep tendonitis include:

  • Pain and tenderness at the front of your arm near the shoulder
  • Increased pain when lifting your arm above your head
  • The feeling of your shoulder “catching” when you move your arm
  • A “snapping” sound in the shoulder on arm movement
woman with shoulder pain from bicep tendonitis
biceps tendonitis after sports injury

Causes of Biceps Tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis is often caused by repetitive movement and often occurs in sports such as golf, tennis, swimming, and baseball. It can also be caused by a sudden heavy load such as when lifting heavy objects during weightlifting or manual labor. Bicep tendinitis becomes more likely in older people, as your tendons weaken through everyday wear and tear.

As biceps tendonitis is associated with other shoulder conditions that occur through repetitive overhead motion, such as:

biceps tendonitis after sports injury

Biceps Tendonitis Tests

  • Shoulder pain has several different causes, so if you’re suffering from any of the symptoms above you should visit an orthopedic surgeon. Your orthopedist will examine the shoulder joint to look for weakness, range of movement, and signs of shoulder instability.

    When you visit us at Resilience Orthopedics, Dr. Mehta will order appropriate imaging such as an x-ray, ultrasound, and/or MRI to determine the cause of your pain.

    • X-rays will look at the bones and assess for signs of shoulder arthritis and other shoulder problems
    • Ultrasound and MRI take a closer look at the tissues of the shoulder such as your muscles and tendons, as well as the cartilage in your shoulder joint.

    Once you’ve had all the relevant tests for bicep tendonitis, Dr. Mehta will explain to you what is causing your shoulder pain and will answer all your questions and concerns.

with arm pain from biceps tendonitis

Bicep Tendonitis Treatment

The good news is that, for most cases of bicep tendonitis, treatment is simple. You must see an orthopedic doctor for treatment as early as possible. Delay in treatment can increase the recovery time for biceps tendonitis and there’s a chance of complete biceps rupture. In both cases, you will require more intensive treatment and sometimes shoulder surgery.

Simple measures for biceps tendonitis include:

  • Rest, and avoidance of heavy lifting or overhead movements
  • Painkillers including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cold packs applied at the site of your pain

You can also start to heal your biceps tendon using gentle exercise. Check out our blog posts on the top 6 exercises and stretches for bicep tendonitis.

If your inflammation isn’t responding to these simple measures, Dr. Mehta will suggest further interventions to settle the inflammation in your bicep tendon. This might include:

The recovery time for bicep tendonitis is generally around 6-12 weeks, though this depends on how severe your symptoms are and how you respond to treatment. Shoulder pain will start to improve after a few weeks and, following complete recovery, you are likely to regain full function of your shoulder and biceps.

Sleeping with bicep tendonitis can be frustrating due to the pain you feel while sleeping on your side. Check out our blog post for advice and tips on how to sleep with shoulder tendonitis.

with arm pain from biceps tendonitis

Biceps Tendonitis Surgery

Surgery is sometimes required for severe cases of biceps tendonitis, or for people who aren’t responding to non-surgical treatment. This is often due to associated conditions in your shoulder such as rotator cuff tear or shoulder impingement.  If you have suffered a partial or complete tear of your bicep tendon, you are likely to require surgery to repair the damaged tendon.

Dr. Mehta is skilled in non-invasive shoulder surgery, known as arthroscopy. In shoulder arthroscopy, Dr. Mehta will make a small incision over your shoulder and insert a camera to look directly at the tissues of your shoulder. Shoulder arthroscopy results in smaller scars and a quicker recovery time compared to open surgery.

How Resilience Orthopedics Can Help

pamela mehta scrubs headshot

Dr. Pamela Mehta, MD – Orthopedic Surgeon in San Jose, California

Dr. Pamela Mehta is an experienced orthopedist based in Los Gatos, San Jose. She will examine your arm to determine whether you have biceps tendonitis. If diagnosed, Dr. Mehta will talk you through all your questions and concerns about biceps tendonitis and will work her hardest to get you the recovery you deserve. Mehta specializes in shoulder arthroscopy which offers less scarring and faster recovery compared to open surgery.

Resilience Orthopedics is based in San Jose, California. To find a shoulder surgeon for biceps tendonitis, get in touch with us and start your recovery today.

Testimonials

Napoleon G.
San Jose, CA
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Dr. Mehta made a big impression on me and my family with her skills, ease of doing business and her willingness to take the time to understand my specific requirements. She is fast, thorough, and you will leave her office feeling like you had and opportunity to learn and understand what are your best options. I went in for sharp pains shooting down my arm. Albeit I am on my way to recovery, I am not in severe pain anymore. Her recommended next steps is for me to seek alternative methods prior to surgery. I can "REALLY" appreciate this comment. I would highly recommend anyone to seek her medical expertise.
Andrew Vo
Google Review
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I came in a few months ago with tingling and numbness on my left hand that was pretty excruciating. Gave Dr. Mehta a visit and after running some tests we agreed carpel tunnel release surgery was the best route. Fast forward six weeks later post surgery and my hand is doing great, and I’m able to start up gym activities again! She did a great job and always made you feel at ease. And the staff at her clinic are always polite, communicative and kind. All around great experience and highly recommend if you’ve got similar issues.
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