Tendons are pieces of connective tissue that bind your muscles to bones. Like any part of the body, injury or overuse can lead to pain or inflammation in your tendons. This condition is called tendinitis.

Tendinitis can happen to any of the thousands of tendons throughout your body — including the biceps.

This article will explain how you might develop tendinitis in the biceps, what it feels like, and how to treat biceps tendinitis if it happens to you.

Biceps tendinitis can develop in either of the two tendons that make up this muscle. One tendon attaches to the biceps muscle at the shoulder, and the other at the elbow.

Pain and inflammation — a condition called tendinitis — is most common at the shoulder end of the biceps. Certain repetitive activities may increase your chances of developing tendinitis in different areas.

Biceps tendinitis is most often the result of everyday wear and tear on the muscle. In terms of sports, weightlifting is one of the high risk activities for biceps tendinitis, but this condition is a common sports injury that can happen to pros and amateurs alike.

Over time and after many years of use, tendons begin to weaken. The protective layer that covers these connective tissues can thicken. So you may not even need to be an athlete to experience biceps tendonitis, it can also happen from normal wear-and-tear.

Combined, these problems can lead to a breakdown or degeneration in the tendon tissue, further decreasing your pain and inflammation, and increasing disability.

Pain and discomfort are the most common symptoms you can expect with biceps tendinitis. It’s not something you can easily see, but your tendon may also become swollen from inflammation or enlarged from tissue thickening, especially in the shoulder area.

In the later stages of biceps tendinitis, an inspection of the tendon would likely reveal a dark red color and small tears in the tissue. In some cases, these tears are visible from the outside. They can create a “Popeye”-like bulge in the upper arm.

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Illustration by Jason Hoffman

Resting the affected area is the best immediate treatment for tendinitis, wherever you may develop it. For biceps tendinitis, a healthcare professional may suggest a combination of treatments, starting with RICE therapy.

RICE stands for:

  • rest
  • ice
  • compression
  • elevation

These interventions all work together to help calm or reduce the inflammation that’s causing your pain. Nonsurgical methods like this are effective for most cases. You may also need medications, like anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections, to manage pain.

If your tendinitis is severe enough to lead to partial or complete tears in the tendon, surgical repair may also be necessary.

Exercises to help biceps tendinitis

Regardless of the extent of your tendinitis, physical therapy and specific exercises can help you reduce pain and inflammation. They can also help you regain mobility.

Your physical therapy plan or recommended exercises will depend on your specific injury and overall health, but they will probably involve:

  • resistance exercises
  • exercises to strengthen the shoulder
  • flexibility exercises

These exercises can be as simple as moving your arm in different directions to using resistance bands or weights to increase pressure.

Stretches where you hold a position for 20 to 30 seconds, repeated 3 to 5 times, can be enough to help in some cases, too.

Consult your healthcare team about using weights or resistance bands after a tendon injury.

Recovery timeline for biceps tendinitis

Tendinitis can be a chronic problem. In the case of a partial or complete tear of the biceps tendon, you can expect healing to take around 3 to 4 months.

Your recovery will likely include things like:

  • wearing a brace or sling
  • taking medications for pain and swelling
  • exercises
  • physical therapy
  • modifying your activities
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The cost of treating biceps tendinitis depends on the extent of the injury.

If rest, ice, and compression — and perhaps changes to your exercise regimen or lifestyle — are enough, treatment costs can be low. More severe tendinitis or tears in the tendon that require surgery can cost much more to treat.

The specific cost of surgery on your shoulder or biceps will depend on many factors, including:

  • the extent of the injury
  • what other health conditions you may have
  • any complications you might develop
  • where your surgery is performed (facility and region)

Industry estimates place the cost of biceps tendon repair between $4,290 and $18,586.

Most of the time, insurance or Medicare will cover treatment.

In the case of getting coverage for surgery or medication, you may need documentation from your doctor that you’ve already tried RICE therapy and that further treatment is medically necessary.

Do compression sleeves help biceps tendinitis?

In general, compression is recommended to help ease the soreness and pain of tendinitis and other injuries.

A compression sleeve, or other methods of compression therapy, is part of the standard recommendations for healing.

How can you sleep comfortably with biceps tendinitis?

Icing your shoulder and resting after an injury can help reduce the pain and inflammation that may interfere with your sleep.

You may also benefit from body pillows or other sleep support to take the pressure off your shoulder when sleeping. A compression sleeve may also be helpful to give your arm extra support when resting.

If these methods aren’t helping, talk with your doctor about medications you can take, or even surgery that can correct your tendon damage, to relieve your pain.

Will biceps tendinitis heal on its own?

With rest and home treatments like cold therapy and elevation, your tendon should become less swollen and painful in time. Continued strain or use can cause the problem to return or get worse, though.

What exercises should I avoid with biceps tendinitis?

Avoid strenuous exercises and heavy lifting, especially if you’ve had a surgical repair or a biceps tendon injury.

If you have biceps tendinitis, a healthcare professional can help teach you stretching, flexibility, and resistance exercises that can help improve your range of motion and reduce pain.

Is heat good for biceps tendinitis?

Heat might provide relief. It can help open your blood vessels, which increases circulation that can help promote healing to the injured area.

However, ice is usually recommended for treating swelling or inflammation.

You can develop tendinitis in your biceps from activities like weightlifting and strenuous exercise. It can also occur as a result of everyday use.

Reducing your activity, applying ice, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are usually enough to treat biceps tendinitis. If home treatments aren’t providing relief, you may need more insensitive rehab, including surgery.