Biceps/Triceps tendon injuries

The biceps and triceps muscles are the major flexors (biceps) and extensors (triceps) of the arm at the elbow joint. The biceps also play a very important role in rotating your forearm during activities such as turning a screwdriver or doorknob. Each of these muscles starts out as tendons near the shoulder, transition to muscles in the middle of the upper arm, then turn back into tendons near the elbow.

They can be injured at any of these locations, but they are most commonly injured where the tendon inserts onto the bone at the elbow. These injuries are very common, and they typically occur after a sudden, forceful movement such as catching something that is falling or quickly lifting a heavy object.

  • Feeling or hearing a “pop” in the elbow/arm
  • Pain and inability to flex or extend the elbow
  • Bruising and/or swelling
  • Deformity in the arm when the muscle retracts away from the elbow
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramping

Seek care if any injury to your elbow causes signs or symptoms of biceps or triceps muscle injury. This is particularly true if you can’t move your elbow, notice a deformity, or have significant bruising.

Biceps (front of the arm) and triceps (back of the arm) injuries often happen during sports, fitness activities, forceful lifting, manual labor, or sudden accidents (such as catching a falling object).

There are a number of factors that may increase your risk of biceps/triceps tendon injuries at the elbow, including:

  • Heavy weight lifting
  • Smoking
  • Prior history of tendon injuries
  • Family history of tendon injuries
  • Use of anabolic steroids

Nonoperative management with focused physical therapy, activity modification, and bracing are considered for some patients with small or partial tears of the biceps or triceps at the elbow. However, if the tear is complete, this can result in significant disability, weakness, cramping, pain, and deformity. In these instances, surgical repair is often recommended. If a surgical repair may be necessary, it is important that you be evaluated soon after injury as the ideal time frame for surgical repair is within a few weeks after the injury. For patients that do require surgery, the outcomes are very promising.

Proper training and exercise may help reduce the risk of biceps and triceps injuries. It is important to prevent overloading these muscles during exercise, work, or other activities. Maintaining appropriate strength, flexibility, and muscle endurance is also helpful.

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