Biceps tendinitis occurs when there’s inflammation of the biceps tendon. This tendon stretches along your biceps muscle from your elbow up to your shoulder.
Through repetitive motion or overuse, the biceps tendon can develop microtears that can cause inflammation. Since it often occurs at the shoulder joint, it can sometimes accompany rotator cuff injuries.
This article tells you all you need to know about testing, treating, and taping for biceps tendinitis.
There are two types of biceps tendinitis:
- Proximal biceps tendinitis involves the long (upper) head of the biceps tendon, which connects the biceps muscle to the shoulder. This is the most common type.
- Distal biceps tendinitis involves inflammation of the distal (lower) end of the biceps tendon, located near the elbow.
If you’re experiencing pain and swelling in your shoulder, you may want to visit a healthcare professional, like a physical therapist or primary care doctor, for an assessment.
During your visit, they will look for
- pain and tenderness at the shoulder joint
- poor range of motion
- diminished strength
- signs of shoulder instability
If the tendon is ruptured, swelling may also be present.
A healthcare professional may also do certain assessments to identify any coexisting impingement of the rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder.
In some cases, they may also order an MRI or ultrasound to verify their diagnosis, or if they suspect it may be a tendon tear.
For most people, conservative treatment that includes adequate rest and time off from physical activity can allow for proper healing.
You may also benefit from taking an over-the-counter pain reliever and applying ice for 20 minutes a few times per day to alleviate any pain and swelling. Sometimes, a lidocaine or steroid shot may be used for severe pain.
Often, physical therapy will be recommended to aid the healing process. It can also strengthen and stretch the muscles of the shoulder to help regain your range of motion.
A physical therapist can also help you prepare to return to your sport or activity, especially any sports that involve throwing or repetitive use of the shoulder. In some cases, you may have biceps tendinitis exercises to work on at home.
In addition, you may receive other therapy for concurrent injuries, such as injury to the rotator cuff.
If your shoulder has not healed after 3 months, you may require surgery.
According to a 2020 trial with 80 adults, kinesiotaping (KT) may reduce pain and improve function, making it a potential alternative to more invasive treatments, like injections.
To tape your biceps tendon, you’ll want to make sure you have quality sports tape and a pair of scissors (as needed). Ideally, you will also have someone to help apply the tape.
Before starting, ensure your skin is clean and dry, then follow these steps:
- Measure the tape the length of your biceps, from the acromion process to just above your inner elbow.
- Create a 2-inch (5-cm) tear, leaving the paper on, to create an anchor point on both sides of the tape.
- Lift your arm straight to the side, and slightly extend it backward with your palms facing forward.
- Remove the paper on one of the anchor points and place the sticky part (with zero stretch) just above your inner elbow.
- Pull the tape, removing the paper as you go, upward and toward your shoulder with around 25% stretch and press it into the skin. Stop once you reach the other anchor point and it’s just over your shoulder at the biceps tendon.
- Remove the remaining paper and press the rest of the tape into the skin with zero stretch.
- Gently rub the tape to allow it to stick properly.
Common symptoms of biceps tendinitis
- pain or tenderness at the front of the shoulder
- radiating pain along the upper arm
- shoulder stiffness or limited mobility
- pain or weakness when performing tasks above the head or with general movement
- trouble rotating the arm (supination or pronation)
- a “popping” or “clicking” sound with movement
If you’re having similar symptoms but near the inner middle part of your elbow, you may be experiencing distal biceps tendinitis.
How long does biceps tendinitis last?
Biceps tendinitis often lasts a few weeks to months. In mild cases, you may be able to return to physical activity in as little as 1 to 2 weeks, as long as you’re not experiencing any symptoms or pain.
Can I work out with biceps tendinitis?
It’s not recommended to exercise your arms with biceps tendinitis. Instead, it’s best to allow the area to rest and heal.
You can focus on core and lower body exercises, or cardio exercises that do not exacerbate the pain.
What does biceps tendinitis feel like?
Most people with biceps tendinitis describe it as pain or tenderness in their shoulder area. They may also feel a throbbing sensation and have difficulty lifting or rotating their arm.
Biceps tendinitis is a common issue that involves inflammation of the biceps tendon. The most common type is proximal biceps tendinitis, which affects the long head of the biceps tendon near the shoulder.
Overuse and repetitive motion during physical activities, such as baseball, tennis, swimming, and golf, often cause it. Biceps tendinitis can also occur from a sudden load or overexertion, such as lifting an object or weight.
You can typically treat biceps tendinitis with adequate rest, physical therapy, and pain management. In rare cases, you may require surgery.
If you suspect you have biceps tendinitis, visit a healthcare professional for a diagnosis.