The bicep muscle in the arm crosses the elbow and the shoulder joints. At the elbow, the bicep muscle allows for the elbow to bend and the forearm to rotate the palm upward (supinate). When the bicep tendon is torn at the elbow, it typically occurs from some type of traumatic force or eccentric load to the bicep. An eccentric load is when the elbow is forced to straighten against resistance. Patients will typically state they felt a pop at the elbow, followed by swelling and possible bruising. You may notice a loss of the normal bicep contour. There will be weakness when attempting to flex the elbow.
More often than not, distal bicep tears need to be surgically repaired. Even partial distal bicep tendon tears need to be repaired to prevent loss of motion and weakness at the elbow. The majority of strength and power comes from that distal bicep insertion site. Without a proper attachment, the elbow cannot properly flex or supinate. Surgery consists of an open incision in the elbow crease to gain access to the torn bicep tendon and reattaching it to the radius bone with suture and anchor. Post-operative distal bicep repairs will spend six weeks in a restrictive brace and begin physical therapy within two weeks of surgery. It could take up to six months to fully recover from a distal bicep repair, depending on the level of activity the patient wishes to return to. Any traumatic injury to the elbow that causes swelling, bruising, or deformity, should be evaluated immediately by an orthopedic specialist. Distal bicep tears should be fixed quickly after the injury to prevent retraction and scarring down of the torn tendon. If you have had a traumatic injury to your elbow, call Sports and Orthopaedic Specialists today.