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What are the Most Common Causes of a Torn Bicep?

By Brian Marchetti
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Torn bicep injuries commonly occur when the tendons attaching the bicep to the shoulder or elbow tear due to long-term use or sudden stress. Several factors can contribute to this injury including arthritis, weight training or sports related incidents. Patients often report intense pain and a lack of mobility in the effected arm.

In younger and middle-aged men and women, torn bicep injuries usually occur from physical activity. The most common bicep injury occurs during weight training. Preacher curls, an exercise designed to specifically target the bicep muscle, remains the most common exercise contributing to the injury.

Falling on an outstretched arm or lifting excessive weight without warming up the muscle also can contribute to a torn bicep injury. This injury is known as a distal tendon bicep rupture. The distal tendon attaches the bicep muscle to the elbow. The injury can come in either a partial bicep muscle tear, in which the tendon frays, or a complete rupture, which splits the tendon in two.

Bicep tears often occur in older adults due to general use over long periods of time; the injury is also common in people afflicted with arthritis. Normally, this injury originates from the fraying or rupture of tendons that attach the bicep to the shoulder complex. Persons involved in long-term activities, especially overuse of the arms above the head, tend to suffer this type of bicep tear. Manual labor and activities such as swimming and tennis qualify as examples.

The long and short end of the bicep attaches to the shoulder. The longer tendon fits through the shoulder socket and is most likely to suffer an injury. Because of the short tendon, the injury proves to be less severe to the patient.

Minor torn bicep injuries typically can be treated without surgery. Doctors may recommend the use of over-the-counter drugs, such as anti-inflammatory medications, along with rest and physical therapy to help the patient regain strength and mobility to the injured arm.

Elbow bicep tears tend to require more intense care than shoulder bicep injuries. Treatment often involves surgery to reattach the tendon to the bone. The procedure is often followed by physical therapy and an exercise program. The process can take anywhere from six to nine months.

Torn bicep injuries must be taken seriously. If ignored, and the injured person continues physical use of the injured arm, permanent damage can occur. Immediate treatment and exercise will normally return the bicep to its pre-injury strength and mobility.

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Discussion Comments

By donasmrs — On Feb 27, 2013

I know three people who do archery. One does it for a hobby and the other two for hunting.

All three of them have torn their biceps at one point. When they're drawing the arch, they use their biceps instead of their back muscles to do it. Now they've smartened up and use a device that protects their biceps while drawing.

It's a nasty injury though because it requires surgery, not to mention that it's painful and ugly looking.

By ZipLine — On Feb 26, 2013

@turkay1-- How much did you lift? It must have been a lot.

I had a buddy who had a torn bicep tendon from lifting something heavy at work. It seems like lifting is the main culprit for this injury.

I wouldn't think about going back to lifting right now. Depending on how bad it is, you will need rest and physical therapy for at least several months. I think my buddy went to therapy on and off for five months.

By candyquilt — On Feb 26, 2013

I tore my bicep tendon lifting weights at the gym. Has anyone done this before? How long before I can go back to lifting?

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