What are they?
The biceps muscle is located at the front of the arm and powers elbow flexion (bending) as well as wrist rotation. The biceps has one tendon that travels across the elbow and attaches at the forearm and at the other end, has a pair of tendons that attach at the shoulder. Thus, the biceps is actually important to both shoulder and elbow function. The biceps is used in almost every activity of the arm, so painful biceps tendonitis/tendinosis, or overuse-related pain, is very common. Less commonly, the tendons can actually tear, causing sudden pain, bruising and weakness.
What symptoms do they cause?
Biceps tendonitis is an overuse problem which causes pain in the over-taxed tendon, either at the elbow or at the front of the shoulder. Pain is usually worse with resistance training of the biceps or when weight is lifted with a straight arm directly in front of the body. A biceps tendon tear is a sudden event, resulting in acute pain, bruising, swelling and weakness.
How are they diagnosed?
Biceps tendon problems are diagnosed with a detailed interview and examination with your sports medicine physician. The biceps tendon can actually be felt through the skin and tenderness in this area is usually a very good indicator. An MRI is helpful in some cases, especially if a tear is suspected.
How are they treated?
Treatment for the biceps tendon is specific to the symptoms and to the specific problem with the tendon (tendonitis versus partial tearing versus full tearing). When the diagnosis is tendonitis, rest, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy or a home exercise program are often successful. Cortisone injections may also be effective. In cases of tendonitis or partial tearing where nonsurgical treatment is not effective, a surgical repair may be considered. If you suspect a tendon tear, see your doctor right away as surgery may be needed.