Lower Back Issues

Biceps Tendonitis

Causes
Continuous or repetitive shoulder actions can cause overuse of the biceps tendon. Damaged cells within the tendon don’t have time to recuperate. The cells are unable to repair themselves, leading to tendonitis. This is common in sport or work activities that require frequent and repeated use of the arm, especially when the arm motions are performed overhead. Athletes who throw, swim, or swing a racquet or club are at greatest risk.

Years of shoulder wear and tear can cause the biceps tendon to become inflamed. Examination of the tissues in these cases commonly shows signs of degeneration. Degeneration in a tendon causes a loss of the normal arrangement of the collagen fibers that join together to form the tendon. Some of the individual strands of the tendon become jumbled due to the degeneration, other fibers break, and the tendon loses strength. When this happens in the biceps tendon, inflammation, or even a rupture of the biceps tendon, may occur.

Biceps tendonitis can happen from a direct injury, such as a fall onto the top of the shoulder. A torn transverse humeral ligament can also lead to biceps tendonitis. (As mentioned earlier, the transverse humeral ligament holds the biceps tendon within the bicipital groove near the top of the humerus.) If this ligament is torn, the biceps tendon is free to jump or slip out of the groove, irritating and eventually inflaming the biceps tendon.

Biceps tendonitis sometimes occurs in response to other shoulder problems, including:

  • rotator cuff tears
  • shoulder impingement
  • shoulder instability

Aging adults with rotator cuff tears also commonly end up with biceps tendonitis. When the rotator cuff is torn, the humeral head is free to move too far up and forward in the shoulder socket and can impact the biceps tendon. The damage may begin to weaken the biceps tendon and cause it to become inflamed.

Shoulder Impingement
In shoulder impingement, the soft tissues between the humeral head and the top of the shoulder blade (acromion) get pinched or squeezed with certain arm movements.

Shoulder Instability
Conditions that allow too much movement of the ball within the socket create shoulder instability. When extreme shoulder motions are frequently repeated, such as with throwing or swimming, the soft tissues
supporting the ball and socket can eventually get stretched out.

The labrum (the cartilage rim that deepens the glenoid, or shoulder socket) may begin to pull away from its attachment to the glenoid. A shoulder dislocation can also cause the labrum to tear. When the labrum is torn, the humeral head may begin to slip up and forward within the socket. The added movement of the ball within the socket (instability) can cause damage to the nearby biceps tendon, leading to secondary biceps tendonitis.

Symptoms
Patients generally report the feeling of a deep ache directly in the front and top of the shoulder. The ache may spread down into the main part of the biceps muscle. Pain is usually made worse with overhead activities. Resting the shoulder generally eases pain.

The arm may feel weak with attempts to bend the elbow or when twisting the forearm into supination (palm up). A catching or slipping sensation felt near the top of the biceps muscle may suggest a tear of the transverse humeral ligament.