Bicep Tendonitis Symptoms and Causes

Bicep tendonitis is inflammation of the long head of the bicep tendon. A tough band of fibrous tissue, the bicep tendon connects the bicep muscle in the front of your upper arm to the top of your shoulder socket (glenoid). Your shoulder socket is lined with soft cartilage called the labrum which helps the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) fit into the shoulder socket. Bicep tendonitis can be caused by repetitive overhead activities at home, at work or at play.

Bicep Tendonitis Symptoms

You may experience one or more of these common symptoms of bicep tendonitis:

  • Pain or tenderness in the front of your shoulder which worsens with overhead activities such as lifting
  • Pain or aching that moves down the upper arm bone (humerus)
  • Swelling from fluid accumulation and inflammation
  • Grating sound if the tendon isn't swollen
  • Snapping sound or sensation in the shoulder occasionally
     

Symptoms of bicep tendonitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems, so always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Bicep Tendonitis Causes

The main cause of bicep tendonitis is the gradual wear-and-tear process that occurs with aging and is associated with a lifetime of overhead activities. The degeneration of bicep tendons can be worsened by repeating the same shoulder motions again and again. Other causes of bicep tendonitis include:

  • Jobs or routine chores that involve using your shoulders for overhead activities
  • Sports such as swimming, baseball and tennis that involve repetitive overhead activities
     

Shoulder Problems Related to Biceps Tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis often occurs in tandem with other shoulder problems:

  • Rotator cuff injuryThis type of injury occurs when one of the four tendons (known as the rotator cuff) that attaches muscles to the head of your upper arm bone (humerus) is partially torn or torn into two pieces as a result wear and tear over time or an acute trauma like a fall.
     
  • Arthritis of the shoulder joint – The shoulder joint can be affected by degenerative "wear and tear" arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (systemic arthritis) or post-traumatic arthritis (arthritis that occurs after a previous injury has healed).
     
  • Shoulder joint tear – Also known as a glenoid labrum tear, the injury happens to the labrum, a soft, fibrous rim of tissue that surrounds the shallow socket of the shoulder blade, known as the glenoid. The labrum is the site where several shoulder ligaments attach. It serves the function of helping to stabilize the shoulder joint.
     
  • Chronic shoulder instability – This can be a result from problems with the structures surrounding the shoulder joint that normally work to keep the ball tight in its socket. If the shoulder joint is loose, it may slide partially out of place — subluxation — or completely out of place —shoulder dislocation.
     
  • Other diseases that cause inflammation of the shoulder joint lining.
     

Bicep Tendonitis Treatment

Treatments for bicep tendonitis include nonsurgical approaches such as modifying the activities that cause the problem, icing to reduce inflammation, splinting or immobilization, steroid injections and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen. If your condition doesn't improve with nonsurgical treatment, your doctor may recommend shoulder arthroscopy surgery, a minimally invasive procedure that repairs the most severe cases of bicep tendonitis.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Shoulder and Elbow Services in New York treats bicep tendonitis as well as a broad range of shoulder and elbow conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

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