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Biceps Tendon Tear

Bicep Tendon Tear Overview

The bicep muscle is located on the front of the upper arm and helps the elbow to bend and the forearm to rotate. It also plays an important role in stabilizing the shoulder. A bicep tendon tear can occur from an injury, such as a fall, lifting an item too heavy or continuous wear and tear. Dr. Brian Waterman has helped numerous patients alleviate bicep tendon pain following a torn bicep tendon.

Two tendons attach the bicep muscle to the shoulder bone, but only one tendon, the distal biceps tendon, attaches to the elbow. There are two types of bicep tendon tears, partial and complete. A partial tear represents a torn bicep tendon that is not completely severed. A complete tear represents a fully split tendon into two separate pieces.

A bicep tendon tear is typically caused by continuous, extreme wear and tear on the biceps muscle, such as weight training. The tendon becomes frayed in many cases and as the injury progresses, a torn bicep tendon occurs. A tear can occur at the shoulder joint or the elbow joint. The shoulder joint experiences a tear, proximal biceps tendon tear, most commonly in patients over the age of 60 years. The elbow joint experiences a tear most commonly in middle-aged men heavily involved in sports and weight training. Many tears at the shoulder joint will heal on its own, while tears at the elbow joint typically require surgical repair.

Symptoms of a Torn Bicep Tendon

The most common symptom is bicep tendon pain immediately following the tear. The injury generally occurs acutely during lifting, and patients often experience a tearing sensation or painful “pop” in the front of the elbow. The pain will be located in the upper arm or at the elbow, depending on the location of the torn bicep tendon. Bruising and swelling in the forearm are common symptoms patients experience following the injury. Many patients will also experience difficulty twisting the forearm and bending the elbow.

Diagnosis of a Bicep Tendon Tear

In order to alleviate the bicep tendon pain and reach a diagnosis, Dr. Waterman will conduct a history and physical examination. He will examine for a gap in the front of the elbow during the consultation. X-rays are often recommended to rule out any bone injury, and an MRI is often recommended to determine the extent of damage to the torn bicep tendon.

Treatment of a Torn Bicep Tendon

The location of the torn bicep tendon, injury extent, patient’s activity level and patient’s age will all be determining factors in Dr.Waterman’s treatment plan. Many patients can still function with a tear, so non-surgical measures can be effective at controlling bicep tendon pain and other common symptoms. However, in active patients, surgery is commonly recommended to maintain strength and function.


Non-surgical measures include limited activity, ice application, anti-inflammatory medications and strengthening exercises. The combination of these items will reduce inflammation, swelling and pain in certain patients.


If non-surgical measures fail or if the bicep tendon tear is too severe, Dr. Waterman may recommend surgery. Surgery is used to reattach the torn bicep tendon back to the bone in the least invasive method as possible.

At a Glance

Dr. Brian Waterman, MD

  • Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
  • Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
  • Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
  • Learn more

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