Biceps or Triceps Rupture
A complete biceps or triceps rupture means the tendon (fibrous band of tissue attaching muscle to bone) has detached entirely from the arm bone. Treatment for complete tears ranges from rest and physical therapy to surgery to reattach the tendon. In a partial rupture, which is more common, the tendon is torn but still partly attached to the bone. A partial rupture can usually be treated without surgery.
A biceps rupture involves the tendon that connects the biceps muscle to the shoulder. The tear can occur either at the elbow or the shoulder and is usually the result of repetitive overhead motions, as in swimming or throwing, or stress on the elbow from heavy manual labor or weight lifting.
A rupture of the triceps tendon, which connects the muscle at the back of the upper arm to the elbow is less common. It's usually the result of a traumatic injury, such as a direct hit to the muscle or a fall onto the outstretched arm. If repetitive use has stressed this tendon, the risk of a tear from heavy lifting – such as in manual labor or strength training with weights – is increased.
Because these injuries can permanently affect your arm's strength and function, it's important to get diagnosed and treated promptly.
Our approach to biceps and triceps ruptures
We're committed to helping patients with tendon ruptures recover function and return to their favorite activities. We use proven surgical as well as nonsurgical methods to develop individualized treatment plans. Our team includes sports medicine doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and athletic trainers.
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Signs & symptoms
Symptoms of a tendon rupture vary depending on severity and location. You may experience:
- Severe pain, which may go away after a few days
- Hearing a popping sound or feeling a popping sensation
- Swelling, bruising and tenderness in the injured area
- Weakness in the arm
- Bunching of the muscle where the tendon has detached. Patients with a biceps rupture may have a Popeye-like bulge in their arm.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose a rupture based on a physical exam that includes assessing your ability to move your arm in certain ways. Imaging tests can help with determining the extent of the damage. These include:
- X-rays. The images will show whether any bones are fractured.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI scan provides detailed images of soft tissue, allowing your doctor to see the tear's location and severity and whether it has caused muscle tissue to move.
Treatment options for tendon tears depend on the injury's severity. If the tear is partial, a plan that includes rest; icing the area; anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin); and physical therapy may be enough to support proper healing.
Depending on your age and activity level, if you have a full rupture, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage. The goal of surgery is to reattach the tendon to the bone so that you can regain strength and range of motion in your arm. There are several procedures for repairing a torn tendon, and your surgeon will talk with you about which approach is best in your case.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.