Bicep Strain

What is a Bicep Strain?

A bicep strain is damage to the bicep muscle or tendons in the arm. The Biceps Brachii consists of two heads: the Short Head and the Long Head. The short head and the long head both connect at separate points at the top of your shoulder. The long head of the bicep tendon attaches to the top of the shoulder, while the short head attaches at the coracoid process. 

While both tendons have attachment points at the top of the shoulder, they also additionally have a tendon that attaches to the radius bone, which is located at the elbow. The Biceps Brachii is responsible for the flexion of your elbow and rotation of your forearm, which causes your hand to face upwards. This motion is called supination. Please see the bicep muscle diagram image below. 

Arm Muscles Labeled Bicep Strain Bicep Tear Labeled Bicep

A bicep strain or muscle tearing is damage to any of the tendons with varying degrees from a mild, moderate, to severe strain. With a mild strain, you will not lose muscle strength but there will be small tears in the bicep tendon that will cause pain. A moderate strain will display with loss of strength, and you will feel as if your shoulder is unstable. This degree will also cause pain and swelling around the tear. A severe strain will cause pain immediately because the tendon has completely torn. This causes swelling, loss of strength, and inability to use your arm without pain.

Bicep strain weight liftingYou can get a bicep strain from lifting too much weight in the gym and it can be painful.
How Does A Bicep Strain Happen?

A bicep strain can happen in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples:

  • A baseball player who has just started the season, began to throw more often, and with a higher level of intensity than in previous seasons
  • A warehouse worker that lifts and carries heavy boxes out of trucks for a living, fatigues throughout the day, and causes a breakdown in his body mechanics
  • A retired man fishing on his dock for multiple hours at a time, casting over and over with the same arm

Every one of these individuals are at different stages of their lives. Each of these examples is performing a repetitive movement that can cause fatigue and loss of proper body mechanics over time, causing more stress to be placed on the bicep.

Here are some additional examples of ways you could strain your bicep:

  • Reaching up into the attic to take down Christmas decorations, the box slips, and you catch it with one arm
  • A weightlifter doing bicep curls with too much weight

Upper body anatomy arm muscles triceps biceps clavicleAnatomy of the upper arm and bicep

These further examples show that a strain of any muscle can occur without the proper warm-up, care, and awareness of body mechanics when participating in daily activities.

How Do You Know A Bicep Strain Has Happened?

If you are suspecting that you may have strained your bicep, you may notice some signs like:

  • Weakness in your shoulder
  • Pain when lifting your arm above your head
  • Swelling or redness at the top or bottom of your shoulder
  • Radiating pain down into your hand
  • Hearing a pop in your shoulder when you are completing an activity
  • A severe strain can also be a bicep muscle rupture. 

bicep muscle curlBicep Curls

How Do You Treat Or Fix A Bicep Strain ?

If you think that you have injured your bicep, the first thing you should do is stop what you are doing that may have caused the injury. Then, you should use modalities like ice to bring down any of the swelling in the area. If the pain does not subside.  If it does not improve or you have an obvious deformity of the muscle, you will need to see an orthopedic specialist that deals with upper extremity injuries. You should go in to see the doctor if the pain has not subsided and you feel as if you have damaged your bicep.  A rupture of one of the bicep muscles can also occur.  This can be observed as a lump in the arm where the muscle has pulled away from it's attachment. 

The doctor will then examine your shoulder, including your bicep, to determine if there has been a tear or if there is a strain. Based on their findings, an X-Ray, MRI or other imaging may be required to determine the extent of the injury.

How Do You Reduce Risk Of A Bicep Strain?

You can reduce risk of injuries to your bicep by completing the proper warm up before any lifting or any repetitive activity that involves your upper extremity. A proper warm up and workout routine that helps strengthen and stabilize your shoulder will help prevent any future injury to your shoulder and bicep. Once you have completed activities that could cause strain or damage to your bicep, the proper cool-down or recovery routine needs to be implemented. The proper warm-up, prep, and cool-down will help alleviate your chances of an injury to your bicep from occurring.  Avoid repetitive motions to also ensure that you don't develop tendonitis of the bicep tendons.

Our website medical library has several articles on all of the injuries you may have in your arm.  To schedule for physical therapy, please call 904-858-7045.

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If you think you have bicep strain and it isn't improving it may be time for you to see an experienced orthopedic specialist. To schedule an appointment with one of The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute's Orthopedic Specialists please call 904-JOI-2000 or click the button below.

By: Logan Hutchinson, OTR/L

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