Please Note: We are always careful not to give medical advice. Please seek a medical evaluation for severe or prolonged pain from any cause. The following information applies to pain originating from the muscles and tendons of the arm, not the shoulder or forearm.
When you flex your elbow, your biceps muscle contracts while the triceps muscle is relaxed. Conversely, when you extend your elbow, the triceps contracts while the biceps is relaxed. When you damage these tissues, you can experience pain, loss of strength, tenderness, swelling, bruising and, in the event of a complete tendon rupture, retraction of the muscle to a prominent mass in the arm. In this post, we will further discuss these symptoms, along with treatment options for the various types of arm injuries.
COMPLETE TENDON TEAR
By far, trauma and repetitive use are responsible for the majority of arm injuries and the most serious of these is when the biceps tendon is completely torn. Most commonly, the biceps tendon tears at the shoulder. Most injuries occur at 40 to 60 years of age due to chronic wear of the biceps tendon. In younger individuals, the tear is usually the result of trauma (such as an auto accident or fall). biceps tendon ruptures are also likely in individuals who perform repetitive overhead lifting and in athletes who lift weights or participate in aggressive contact sports.
Symptoms of a biceps rupture can include:
- Sharp pain in the upper arm or elbow
- Hearing a “pop” or snap at the shoulder or elbow
- Bruising and swelling in the upper arm to elbow
- Weakness in the arm with bending the elbow, rotating the forearm, or lifting the arm overhead
- Tenderness in the shoulder or elbow
- Muscle spasms in the shoulder and arm
- A bulge or deformity in the lower part of the upper arm (a “Popeye arm”)
Recommended Treatment for a Complete Biceps Rupture:
An orthopedic surgeon is best qualified to explain operative and non-operative management options for a complete tendon tear.
SPRAINS OR STRAINS
A strain of the biceps or triceps tendon or of the muscle is more common (and less serious) than a compete tendon rupture. Healthcare providers are seeing more arm strains with the growth of explosive sports and endurance sports such as Crossfit, power lifting and obstacle course racing (e.g. Spartan, Tough Mudder, etc). A pulled biceps results from overstretching and tearing some of the biceps muscle fibers and/or tendons.
Symptoms of an arm strain can include:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle tenderness
- Muscle swelling
- Muscle stiffness
- Muscle inflammation
Recommended Treatment for a Biceps Strain:
Management of a biceps strain is important in order to accelerate the recovery process. Most athletes who experience these injuries enjoy their sports and are eager to return despite the injury, but there are some guiding principles that you will want to follow. Most importantly, you should avoid the culprit behavior. For example, the weight lifter who strained his biceps during dumbbell curls will want to avoid that particular activity for awhile. Use your discomfort as a guide to your limitations. In other words – if it hurts, don’t do it!
Acute injury management includes rest, ice and compression. Ice and a compression sleeve will help control the swelling and the biceps sleeve will further allow the injured tissue to grow back together.
Symptoms may intensify for two or three days after the initial injury due to the swelling associated with the damaged tissues. After this short period, though, rehabilitation can begin and should include stretching and, if the injury is mild, resistance training. Use of compression on the injured area is advised in order to provide biceps and triceps support and increase proprioception (the sensory information that contributes to the sense of position of self and movement).
As the pain diminishes, training can be increased using common sense as a guide. Many athletes subscribe to the idea of “no pain, no gain,” but it is important to realize this is not a good rule to follow during recovery. This behavior is counterproductive and can result in re-injury.
The time until full recovery will vary depending on the magnitude of the injury. The risk for re-injury is higher once there has been an initial injury and becomes less over time. The use of a compression support sleeve is advised for a few weeks or months after the acute injury with the hope that the risk for re-injury is reduced.
If you have any questions about the injuries or biceps/triceps compression sleeves mentioned above, please feel free to reach out to us.