What are biceps and triceps injuries?
The biceps muscle is located at the front of your upper arm and is responsible for pulling motions as well as turning the palm up. Like all muscles in the body, it attaches to bone with the help of tendons. The biceps tendons attach the muscle to the bones in the shoulder and elbow. The triceps muscle is located at the back of your upper arm and allows you to extend your arm. The triceps tendons attach the muscle to the elbow as well as the shoulder blade (scapula) and upper arm bone.
Common injuries to the biceps and triceps include the following:
- Tendinitis – Occurs when the biceps tendon becomes inflamed or irritated.
- Strain – Occurs when the muscle sustains an injury or the injury occurs where the tendon and muscle meet
- Rupture – Occurs when the tendon completely disconnects from the bone
What are the symptoms of biceps and triceps injuries?
Symptoms vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Common symptoms include:
- Decrease range of motion
- Swelling, tenderness, and/or bruising
- Visual deformity
For biceps injuries, you may experience pain on the top of the arm that extends to the forearm. Turning the palm up or flexing the elbow often leads to pain and the feeling of weakness in the arm. For triceps injuries, the pain will be felt on the back of the arm, often just above the elbow, making extending the arm difficult.
What causes biceps and triceps injuries?
Repetitive activities, traumatic events, or overuse may lead to biceps and triceps injuries. Certain athletes, such as swimmers, baseball players, golfers, and tennis players are at higher risk of developing these injuries. These injuries are also more common in men over the age of 40.
How are biceps and triceps injuries evaluated?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination to diagnose your injury. Because X-rays only show detailed pictures of dense structures like bone, your doctor may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan to evaluate your soft tissue and diagnose any ruptures, strains, or tendinitis.
How are biceps and triceps injuries treated?
Depending on the nature and severity of your injury, your doctor may recommend non-surgical or surgical treatment options.
Several non-surgical treatments exist:
- Rest – Your doctor will recommend avoiding lifting of heavy weight or overhead activities to relieve swelling and pain. Your doctor may recommend using a sling.
- Ice therapy – Applying cold ice packs can reduce swelling. Your doctor may recommend using ice therapy in 20-minute intervals several times a day.
- Anti-inflammatory medications – Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy – Motion, flexibility, and strengthening exercises can restore movement and shoulder strength.
If you experience a severe biceps or triceps injury and your condition does not improve through non-surgical interventions, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Surgery may include:
- Bicep tenodesis – This procedure is used to repair a bicep tear. The surgery reattaches the ruptured end of the biceps tendon to the bone with a screw.
- Tenotomy – This procedure is performed in severe cases of biceps tendinitis when the long head of the biceps tendon is damaged beyond repair. In this case, the damaged biceps tendon is released from its attachment and may result in a bulge or visible deformity in the arm.
- Acromioplasty and direct tenodesis – This procedure for biceps tendinitis, which is usually performed arthroscopically, removes the front portion of the acromion, where the scapula bone meets the top of the shoulder joint. This creates more space between the acromion and the ball of the upper arm bone (humerus), alleviating pressure on the biceps tendon and other soft tissues.
- Triceps tendon repair – This procedure involves repairing ruptured or injured triceps tendons. In the procedure, your surgeon makes an incision behind the elbow and drills holes into the end of the ulna (bone located in the forearm). Your surgeon then inserts the ends of the torn tendons through the holes and stitches them or uses screws to attach the tendon to the bone. In cases of chronic injury, a tendon from another part of the body may be used to lengthen the existing tendon.
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