The biceps tendon connects the biceps muscle to two bones in the shoulder, and one bone in the elbow.

Both areas can be vulnerable to tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the tendon. If you’re experiencing tendonitis, you’ll notice symptoms like:

  • weakness
  • pain
  • aching
  • tenderness
  • feelings of warmth
  • redness

While surgery may sometimes be necessary to fully repair the tendon, you can also try these gentle exercises for relief.

Causes of Biceps Tendonitis

Inflammation of the biceps tendon can be caused by:

  • Repetitive motions from certain sports or work activities, especially if these motions cause the elbow to repeatedly bend, the wrist to repeatedly rotate while the palm is upturned, or with repetitive hyperextension of the elbow.
  • A sudden increase in the intensity or amount of a particular activity that causes strain in the biceps tendon.
  • A direct injury, like a fall in which you land on the shoulder or elbow.

Who Is at Risk?

You may be at increased risk for experiencing biceps tendonitis if you do or have any of the following.

  • Sports that involve overhead arm movements or contact like football, gymnastics, swimming, rock climbing, or lifting weights.
  • Inflexibility and poor strength.
  • Exercise but rarely take time to warm up the muscles and tendons before beginning strenuous activities.
  • Activities that restrain the elbow.
  • Injuries to either the shoulder or the elbow.
  • Heavy labor.

How to Prevent Biceps Tendonitis

Follow these tips to help prevent biceps tendonitis.

  • Always take time to warm up and stretch before beginning physical activities.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to recover between different activities.
  • Commit to a regular workout schedule to build strength and flexibility, and be sure that you know and practice proper technique when you exercise.
  • Avoid repetitive motions that cause problems.

Exercises to Relieve Pain from Biceps Tendonitis

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms associated with biceps tendonitis, you can try the exercises below. If your feelings of pain increase, stop immediately. While your tendon heals, be sure to avoid overhead lifting movements.

Flexion and Extension

  1. Flex and extend the elbow on your injured side by gently bringing the palm of your hand up to the shoulder.
  2. Be sure to bend the elbow as much as possible. Then straighten your arm and elbow.
  3. Complete 15 repetitions.
  4. Rest, and then complete another set of 15 reps.

Single Shoulder Flexion

  1. Begin by standing with your arms at your side.
  2. Keeping the injured arm straight, raise it forward and up until it points to the ceiling.
  3. Hold for about 5 seconds, and then return to the starting position.
  4. Complete another set with between 8 and 12 raises, holding each raise for 5 seconds.

Biceps Stretch

  1. Face a wall, standing about 6 inches away.
  2. With your palm down, raise the arm on your injured side and touch the thumb side of your hand to the wall.
  3. Make sure your arm is straight, and then turn your body away from your raised arm until you feel a stretch in the biceps.
  4. Hold this stretch for about 15 seconds.
  5. Rest, and then complete 2 more reps.

Reclining External Rotation

  1. Lie down with your injured side facing up.
  2. Extend your other arm along the ground and rest your head against it. Bend your knees for comfort and stability.
  3. Rest your upper arm on your side and bend the elbow on your injured side to 90 degrees, with your palm facing in toward your body and your lower arm down toward the floor.
  4. Keep your elbow tucked against your body, and then raise your forearm until it’s parallel to the ground.
  5. Slowly lower it back down and repeat for 15 repetitions.
  6. Rest, and then complete another set. You can try this exercise with a light dumbbell or even a can of soup, building up the weight gradually.

Sleeper Stretch

  1. Lie on the injured side.
  2. Use a pillow for your head, and bend your knees for comfort and stability.
  3. Bend the elbow of the injured arm so that you fingers point toward the ceiling, then use your other hand to gently push the injured arm toward to the floor.
  4. Resist the push to feel the stretch, and focus on keeping your shoulder blades squeezed together as you move through the exercise.
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then rest and repeat twice more.

Biceps Curl

  1. Hold a light weight (about 5 to 8 pounds), a hammer, or can of soup in the hand on your injured side.
  2. Stand up straight, keeping your elbow against the side of your body.
  3. Bring your palm up toward your shoulder, bending the elbow but keeping it in the same place. Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Complete 8 to 12 repetitions.
  5. Rest, and then complete another set. If this exercise is too easy, try upping your weight.

The Takeaway

The best treatment is resting the sore area as much as possible and avoiding the activity that caused the injury. Rest will calm the inflammation and help relieve the pain. Icing can also be effective. Apply ice packs for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours to reduce inflammation and pain.

If rest, ice, and gentle exercises provide no relief, and you find that your biceps tendonitis isn’t improving within two weeks, it’s time to consult your doctor.