If Popeye had biceps tendinitis, it would have taken more than a single can of spinach to save the day! In fact, he would likely be in too much pain to even pour it into his mouth. That’s because your bicep, the muscle in front of your upper arm, helps you bend your elbow, rotate your arm, and keep your shoulder stable. If the strong, cord-like tendon that connects the upper end of the bicep muscle to the bones in your shoulder becomes inflamed, even the simplest of overhead movements can be too painful to perform.
Reaching for Reasons
How and why does this happen? Damage to the bicep tendons is most often a result of repetitive overhead motion. As we age, our tendons weaken with wear and tear and can become more prone to damage by overuse. Activities like swimming, baseball, and tennis, as well as jobs or everyday chores that involve continual reaching and lifting, can all play a part in various shoulder injuries often associated with biceps tendinitis. The condition often accompanies a damaged rotator cuff. Other times it occurs along with chronic shoulder instability, impingement, or arthritis.
Symptoms include tenderness in front of the shoulder and increased pain with overhead movement, an achiness that extends down the upper arm, and occasionally a snapping sensation in the shoulder. In its early stages the inflammation may cause some swelling, weakness, and pain. As the condition worsens, the tendon thickens and grows larger to the point of tearing or deforming the arm with a Popeye-like bulge.
Diagnosis entails a thorough examination. You will be put through a series of tests involving range of motion, strength, flexibility, stability, and function. An x-ray or MRI may be taken, and your medical history and lifestyle considered.
Rest and Refrain
The first step toward recovery is rest. As hard as it may seem, you must refrain from any overhead activities—keep that arm down! Also, apply ice packs in 20 minute intervals throughout the day to reduce swelling and pain. Be sure not to apply ice directly to your skin, though. Instead, place a thin towel over the area before applying the pack. We may recommend anti-inflammatory medications, too, and eventually physical therapy stretching exercises will strengthen and restore range of motion. Pain-relieving injections are sometimes used, but cautiously, since the procedure comes with risks. In some cases, surgery may be necessary, and it is typically done arthroscopically. The damaged tendon may be repaired, or removed and reattached.
Recover and Return
As the bicep recovers its strength and flexibility, incorporating intervals into the rehabilitation routine can help improve your joint mobility. This means progressing through a series of steps, with a gradual increase in activity in each one. The goal is to avoid a recurrence of the injury and promote a safe return to your normal activity.
If you notice tenderness or pain with every over-the-shoulder movement you make, you likely are suffering from biceps tendinitis. The experts at Castle Pines Physical Therapy and Cherry Creek Physical Therapy can help! Make an appointment with Dr. Jennifer Molner at our Castle Pines or Cherry Creek, CO office locations by calling (303) 805-5156 or filling out an online form today.