Tendonitis is characterized by inflammation of the tendon that attaches muscle to a bone. You’ve probably heard of Achilles tendonitis, but the condition can develop in a number of other areas of your body, including your knees, hip, shoulders and biceps. Considering how often we use our arms for everyday activities, it’s no surprise that tendonitis can develop in the bicep region and impact our entire arm system. Below, we take a closer look at biceps tendonitis and explain how physical therapy can help decrease this inflammation and eliminate your pain.
Bicep Tendonitis Development
Your biceps muscles are designed to help your forearm turn into a palm up position, but it also aids in shoulder movement and rotator cuff stabilization. Because of its positioning in your forearm, overloading the muscle at either the elbow or shoulder can lead to tendon inflammation and biceps tendonitis. The most common cause of biceps overload is not from an acute overload, but from repetitive stress over time. Oftentimes it’s not one fastball or one hard tennis serve that will trigger your tendonitis, it’s a collection of pitches or swings over a short period of time that will overwork the tendon and lead to an inflammatory response.
Some individuals also develop biceps tendonitis as a result of an injury to their shoulder. Since the biceps plays a role in stabilizing the shoulder and rotator cuff, if these areas become unstable, the biceps muscle will constantly be working to provide stability, and over time this will overwork the area. Untreated shoulder injuries are a common cause of eventual biceps tendonitis.
Symptoms of biceps tendonitis include:
- Difficulty lifting up your arm
- Arm weakness
- Pain in the upper arm and shoulder
- Upper arm and shoulder tenderness
- Arm pain with movement or repetitive motion
Left untreated, biceps tendonitis can transition into tendinopathy, which involves a breakdown of the collagen in the tendon, which decreases function and range of motion, so it’s not a condition you should ignore.
Treating Biceps Tendonitis
If you believe you have biceps tendonitis, head to a physical therapist or your family physician, who will likely refer you to our team if the diagnosis is confirmed. Physical therapy is typically the most common form of treatment for biceps tendonitis because strengthening the underlying issue is what you’re aiming for. We can help to strengthen the biceps itself so it can better handle repetitive motion, or we can work on strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder joint so your biceps isn’t overworked. We also examine your movements in space to optimize your technique so that suboptimal movements aren’t putting excess strain on the area.
We do this by conducting an initial evaluation where we’ll examine your biceps function and learn about your symptoms. We’ll also review your medical history and ask about your current activities, including which sports or actions may be exacerbating symptoms. Our goal isn’t to get you to stop playing sports or performing repetitive motions at your job, even though you may have to take it easy for a little while. Instead, we want to strengthen your biceps so it is better suited to perform all the tasks you’re asked to do in your daily life. Some physical therapy exercise programs for biceps tendonitis may include exercises designed to:
- Strengthen the muscle
- Improve your range of motion
- Stabilize the shoulder joint
- Improve functional movement
- Decrease pain and inflammation
- Increase muscle activity tolerance and stamina
These exercises are designed to be challenging, but they should not cause acute pain. If exercises are causing pain, bring this to the attention of your physical therapist so they can modify your routine. Many patients see improvements after the first session, and oftentimes it only requires a few weeks or months of therapy to get back to a pain-free way of living.
For more information or for help with your bicep tendonitis, reach out to the physical therapy team at OrthoRehab Specialists.