What are the symptoms of a distal biceps tendon tear?
Distal biceps ruptures are uncommon, making up only 3% of all tendon tears. Once a distal biceps tendon has ruptured or torn, symptoms can appear immediately. Symptoms include:
- An audible or palpable “pop” in the elbow, followed by intense pain that decreases overtime to a dull ache or throbbing pain
- Weakness in the arm, especially when twisting or flexing the elbow
- Inability to bend the elbow
- Bruising and swelling in the front of the arm and elbow in the biceps area
- Bulge in the upper arm showing a cosmetic change in the normal contour of the arm
- A gap in the front of the elbow, felt during palpation
- Cramping of the biceps muscle belly
How is a distal biceps tear or distal biceps rupture diagnosed?
The orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho will ask for a complete patient history, as well as the events leading up to the injury. A physical examination will be performed and can often confirm the diagnosis. X-rays as well as an MRI scan may be required to help determine if the tear is complete or partial. These imaging studies will also help guide proper treatment of a distal biceps tendon tear or distal biceps tendon rupture.
How are distal biceps tendon tears treated?
In some cases, non-active patients, and patients without symptoms, may prefer non-surgical treatment for a torn distal biceps tendon. This may also be a consideration for patients with a partial tear. It is important to see an orthopedic specialist who commonly treats distal biceps tears and distal biceps ruptures to help patients with this decision process and to confirm the severity of the diagnosis. Treatment may consist of protecting the arm, resting the joint in a sling and managing the pain with over-the-counter medications for joint inflammation and pain. Non-surgical treatment of a distal biceps tear and distal biceps rupture may result in permanent loss of strength to the elbow, a cosmetic deformity and muscular cramping.
Patients with a distal biceps tear or distal biceps rupture who wish to avoid permanent weakness of the elbow, those bothered by the cosmetic deformity, and those patients who are active individuals commonly decide to have surgery to regain full arm strength. Ideally, surgery should be performed within a few weeks of the injury to prevent scar tissue and further retraction of the muscle. The orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho commonly perform distal biceps repair surgery for patients in the Treasure Valley. They also have experience in more complex distal biceps repair surgery that may be necessary for those patients who did not receive timely surgery or for those patients who have previously undergone a distal biceps repair surgery that either failed or did not heal correctly.
The orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho will consult with the patient to determine the best surgical approach to reattach the distal biceps tendon to the radius (forearm bone). Typically, surgery is performed using small incisions to attach the tendon to the forearm bone. The type and extent of the tear may dictate the surgery required. Specialized instruments are used during this minimally invasive procedure, allowing for less risk of infection, quicker healing time and less pain. Recovery is often quick returning patients to full activity and strength within a few months.
If you have suffered a distal biceps tendon tear, or would like information regarding this type of elbow injury, please contact the orthopedic elbow specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho serving patients in Boise, Meridian, Nampa and the surrounding communities of the Treasure Valley.