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Proximal Biceps Tendon Rupture

What is a rupture of the proximal biceps tendon?


Updated May 27, 2014

Rupture of the proximal head of the biceps tendon involves one of two heads of the biceps tendon. This condition usually occurs in older individuals and is caused by degenerative changes within the biceps tendon leading to failure of the structure. Most patients have preceding shoulder pain consistent with impingement syndrome or a rotator cuff tear. The proximal biceps tendon rupture may then occur during a trivial activity, and some patients may experience some pain relief once the damaged tendon ruptures.

The proximal biceps tendon can rupture in a younger patient with activities such as weight-lifting or throwing sports, but this is quite unusual.

What are the symptoms of a proximal biceps tendon rupture?
Usually patients will have sudden pain associated with an audible snap in the area of their shoulder. The pain is usually not significant, and, as mentioned previously, some patients may experience pain relief after the rupture. After the ruptured tendon retracts, patients may notice a bulge in their arm at the biceps muscle. This is the retracted muscle bunched up in the arm, and is sometime referred to as a "Popeye Muscle," because the muscle is more pronounced than normal.

What is the treatment for a proximal biceps tendon rupture?
Patients usually do not notice any loss of arm or shoulder function following a proximal biceps tendon rupture. A slight bulge in the arm, and some twitching of the retracted muscle are usually the most significant symptoms. Surgical repair of the proximal biceps tendon is usually only considered in the case of a younger patient who is more active.

The reason there is little functional loss following a proximal biceps tendon rupture is that there are actually two tendinous attachments of the biceps at the shoulder joint (that is why the muscle is named "bi-ceps," meaning two heads). When the rupture occurs at the distal biceps tendon at the elbow, where there is only one attachment, surgical repair is much more commonly needed.

If pain persists following a proximal biceps tendon rupture, other causes of shoulder pain should be considered. These include impingement syndrome (rotator cuff bursitis), rotator cuff tears, or fractures around the shoulder.

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