The biceps muscle, the large muscle in the front of your upper arm, helps you bend your elbow and rotate your arm. It is attached to the bones in the shoulder and elbow by a strong tendon. A tear or rupture of this tendon leads to weakness of the elbow and forearm if not repaired.

Biceps tendon rupture is most often caused by trauma (such as a car accident or fall) or while lifting heavy objects. A rupture may also occur due to chronic wear and tear that weakens the tendon.

The individuals most susceptible to rupture are strength athletes, bodybuilders and workers who perform repetitive overhead lifting.

The most common symptoms of biceps tendon rupture include:

  • Sudden, severe pain in the upper arm or elbow
  • Hearing a “pop” or snap at the shoulder or elbow
  • Swelling or bruising from the upper arm to elbow
  • Muscle spasms in the arm and shoulder
  • Weakness in the arm when bending the elbow, rotating the forearm, or lifting the arm overhead
  • A bulge or deformity in the lower part of the upper arm (a “Popeye arm”)

An early diagnosis of biceps tendon rupture by an upper extremity subspecialist at Lancaster Orthopedic Group is important. If surgical repair is necessary, the best results are obtained when surgery is performed soon after the injury.

Your physician will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam to see which elbow and forearm movements are painful. He or she may also order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to see if the biceps tendon is partially torn or fully ruptured.

Non-surgical treatments include ice, rest, limitation of activity, and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and swelling. In cases of significant loss of arm strength, surgery may be recommended to reattach the ruptured tendon to the bone.