5 Signs You May Have Torn Your Bicep

Jul 18, 2022

Signs You May Have Torn Your BicepDid you grow up watching cartoons like Popeye, who flexed his giant arm muscles every chance he got? The classic arm flex shows off the bicep, which can look quite impressive and also helps you twist your arm and bend at the elbow. Both of your upper arms have a biceps muscle connected to your arm bones by biceps tendons. If you suffer a bicep injury in this area, you won’t be able to do common arm movements like you normally would. Your arm muscles and tendons are strong and flexible tissues, but they can still become injured. The most common type of injury to the bicep is a tissue tear and can result in a reduced range of motion in your shoulder and arm. How do you know if you tore your bicep? Check out this information on how your biceps work and five signs that you may have torn your bicep.

Anatomy of the Upper Arm

The bicep muscle runs along the front of your upper arm and supports movements like flexing your arm and rotating your arm outward. Bicep tendons connect the bicep to bones in the shoulder joint and bones in your forearm. Three main tendons connect the bicep muscle to bone. The first, commonly referred to as the long head tendon, attaches the bicep muscle to the top of the shoulder socket. The second tendon, called the short head tendon, connects the bicep to part of your shoulder blade known as the coracoid process. The third tendon connects the bicep to one of the bones in your forearm, known as the radius. Damage to the biceps muscle or any of these tendons can include tissue tears, damage, or detachment from the bone.

5 Signs of a Torn Bicep

Your biceps help you go about everyday movements and tasks, from lifting and carrying things to maintaining a strong and functional upper body. Here are five signs you may have a torn bicep:

Sudden Pain

A bicep tear is typically accompanied by a sharp, sudden pain. You may experience an aching pain at the injury site, along with pain that extends into the rest of your arm. Pain from a torn bicep can last for weeks at a time, depending on the type, severity, and location of the injury. You may also notice increased pain and discomfort when you try to move your arm in certain ways or engage in repetitive activities. If left untreated, this pain can get worse over time, and you may end up with chronic pain and tenderness in the area.

Popping Sound

You may hear a popping sound when the injury happens. Some people who have experienced a sudden bicep tear have described this as an audible snapping sound followed by a tearing sensation. This sign typically happens right away and will be followed by pain, bruising, swelling, and other symptoms.

Bruising

Bruising may develop around the injury site due to a blow to the area that crushes small blood vessels inside the bicep muscle. As blood leaks out of these broken blood vessels, it can become trapped within the soft tissue and appear as discoloration beneath the skin. Bruising from a torn bicep more commonly occurs on the upper arm or shoulder area.

Weakness

A torn bicep can lead to weakness in your shoulder and arm. You may not be able to move or rotate your arm, or when you do perform these movements, you feel weak. You might not feel up to lifting or carrying things because of muscle weakness, pain, and other symptoms that affect your shoulders and arms because of the tear. You may become easily fatigued or worn out due to a bicep tear. Sometimes, a tear can even result in weakness that extends into your wrist and hand.

Distorted Shape

A bicep tear can also lead to a visible bulge or indentation along the top of your arm. This type of injury can lead to a distorted shape of your arm if damage to the tendons can’t keep the muscle safely in place. The biceps are often nicknamed the “Popeye” muscle, but too much of a bulge can be a sign of an injury or issue.

Types of Bicep Tears

Types of Bicep TearsThe types of bicep tears depend on the location and severity of the injury. Your doctor may utilize diagnostic imaging tools like a CT scan or MRI to get a better look at the injured area. The results from these types of scans provide highly detailed images of the muscles and tendons in your arm so they can locate the tear and determine if it is a partial or complete tear. A partial tear refers to a damaged tendon, while a complete tear refers to when the tendon is no longer attached to the bone properly. These are the three main types of bicep tendon injuries:

Proximal Biceps Tendon Tear at Shoulder

The proximal biceps tendon tear occurs at the shoulder and more commonly involves the long head tendon. The tear may occur suddenly or develop over time, but either can result in the tendon partially or completely tearing away from its attachment at the shoulder joint. If either the long head or short head tendon becomes torn, the bicep muscle may separate from the shoulder. With this type of injury, you may still have use of your arm, though a tear in this area can also lead to damage to other structures in the shoulder joint that will require medical attention.

Distal Biceps Tear at Elbow

A bicep tear at the elbow more commonly involves a complete tear due to stress on the tendon at the elbow joint. If you suffer a distal biceps tear at the elbow, your other arm muscles will compensate, and you may still have full use of your arm. However, you will likely still experience pain and weakness in the area. If left untreated, this can result in decreased strength and stability in the tendon. Distal biceps tendonitis, which refers to inflammation in the area, can also occur in the area and make this kind of injury worse.

Biceps Microtears from Tendonitis

Microtears refer to tiny tears along soft tissue that typically occur due to inflammation and irritation in the area. Tendonitis is an inflammation of tendons and commonly occurs with repetitive movements and overuse. Microtears from repeated use of these arm muscles and tendons can also be made worse by other health conditions or injuries like arthritis or a nearby joint dislocation.

Causes of a Torn Bicep

The two most common ways people suffer a torn bicep are by injury and overuse. Here’s what you need to know about bicep injuries and how overuse injuries can impact your upper body strength and healthy functioning.

Injury

A sudden injury to your shoulder, arm, or elbow can impact multiple tissues at once, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint cartilage. It is quite possible to suffer a torn bicep along with other injuries, especially if you suffer a blow to the arm like blunt force trauma during a car accident or while playing sports. You can also injure your bicep by lifting something too heavy, which can overload your muscles and tendons. Another way to suffer a torn bicep injury is by falling on outstretched arms. If you trip and fall, you may naturally reach out to grab something nearby or catch your fall by landing on your hands and knees. This can put sudden and intense pressure and strain on all the tissues in your arms, including the biceps.

Overuse

Overuse can also lead to a torn bicep injury, too. With general wear and tear on the body as you age, your tendons will start to fray over time and lose some of their strength and flexibility. This can make these tendons more susceptible to injury or issue. As these tendons wear down over time, damage can also be made worse by repetitive movements or overuse. Repetitive motions common with activities like weightlifting, swimming, and tennis can put significant pressure and stress on your arm muscles and biceps, leading to an overuse injury. Tendonitis is also an example of an overuse injury that can impact your biceps, causing inflammation that can aggravate these tissues, resulting in pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

How a Doctor Can Help

Our team at AICA Orthopedics can provide you with comprehensive treatment and care for a bicep injury. We offer in-house diagnostic imaging, so you can get the scans you need and meet with your orthopedic doctor all in one convenient location. Our team of doctors includes orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, neurologists, and chiropractors who work together to provide you with a multi-specialty approach to help you recover and rehabilitate after an injury. Visit an AICA Orthopedics location near you in metro Atlanta and get started as soon as possible on treating your bicep injury so you can get back to doing the things you love!

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