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Biceps tendinitis: What causes it and how can you treat it?

Biceps Tendinitis: Causes and Treatment | Peak Performance

Are you experiencing tenderness in your shoulder or elbow? If so, it’s possible that you have biceps tendinitis.

Tendinitis refers to inflammation in the tendons, thick fibrous cords that attach your muscle to bone. Biceps tendinitis can develop in either of the two tendons that make up the muscle. One tendon attaches at the shoulder, and the other at the elbow. In most cases, biceps tendinitis develops in the shoulder, causing shoulder pain, swelling and tenderness.

Luckily, biceps tendinitis can be treated with rest, pain relief medication and physical therapy. Continue reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes and treatment of tendinitis in the biceps.

Symptoms of tendinitis in the biceps

Pain and discomfort in the shoulder or elbow are the most common symptoms of biceps tendinitis. You may also experience:

  • Increased pain when reaching overhead.
  • Pain radiating down your arm from the shoulder.
  • Audible clicking or popping when you move your shoulder.
  • Pain while sleeping or lying in bed.

Your biceps tendon may also become swollen or enlarged due to inflammation. However, this would be difficult to observe. In later stages, you may develop small tears in the tissue. Sometimes these tears are visible from the outside, creating a “Popeye”-like bulge in your upper arm.

Causes of biceps tendinitis

Tendinitis can be caused by a sudden injury such as a slip or fall. However, it is much more common for tendinitis to occur due to repeated overuse of a muscle or everyday wear and tear. 

Most people develop tendinitis because their occupation or hobby involves physical movements that they repeat, over and over. For this reason, tendinitis is a common sports injury. Weightlifting is one of the high-risk activities for biceps tendinitis, but you can also develop it from sports such as baseball or volleyball. You may also be at a higher risk of developing tendinitis if you have a physically demanding job, such as a warehouse worker.

Even if you’re not physically active, everyday use can also cause biceps tendinitis. Over time, your tendons begin to weaken and lose flexibility. This can increase the likelihood of developing inflammation or tears in your biceps tendons. As such, your risk of tendinitis increases as you age.

Most of these potential causes can be avoided through ensuring that you maintain proper form and posture when engaging in physical activity, as well as doing exercises that maintain your muscle flexibility. A physical therapist can educate you on best posture practices and help you design a therapeutic exercise routine to reduce your risk of tendinitis.

3 ways you can treat tendinitis in the biceps

Biceps tendinitis can happen to almost anyone. Thankfully, the care and treatment of biceps tendinitis is easily accessible and well known. Most cases can be treated through:

  • RICE method — Rest is often the first line of treatment for tendinitis, regardless of where it develops in the body. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Each of these treatment interventions works to reduce the inflammation that is causing your pain. Sometimes, nonsurgical methods like RICE therapy are all you need to recover from biceps tendinitis.
  • Pain medication — Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen may also relieve tendinitis pain.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapists use a variety of treatment methods to support your recovery from an injury like tendinitis. These forms of treatment often focus on addressing the root cause of your symptoms as well as helping your body regain strength, flexibility and function. A physical therapist may use a combination of the following physical therapy techniques to treat your biceps tendinitis:
  • Therapeutic exercise — Exercise can help you improve your range of motion, strength and functional mobility of your arm and shoulder. It can also help improve circulation to the injured tendon and promote healing. Although exercise can help treat your biceps tendinitis, you don’t want to push yourself too hard and risk further injury. A physical therapist can set specific objectives to safely guide your healing from one phase to the next without further injury.
  • Shoulder joint mobilization — Joint mobilization is a type of manual therapy where a physical therapist uses their hands to manipulate your shoulder joint. This physical therapy technique is used with the intention of restoring your shoulder joint mobility. A physical therapist will gently guide you through various motions, using their hands to help expand your range of motion. This can help you get back to the activities you used to love with reduced pain and discomfort.
  • Soft tissue mobilization — Soft tissue mobilization is another type of manual therapy. In this technique, a physical therapist uses their hands or an instrument to break up the scar tissue in your affected arm. By breaking up the scar tissue, a physical therapist can use soft tissue mobilization to encourage healing and increase circulation. This can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with tendinitis.

Peak Performance physical therapists can help you recover from biceps tendinitis

The pain from biceps tendinitis can really interrupt your life. It can make it difficult to enjoy your favorite hobbies or work at your job. It can even make everyday tasks like reaching for an item on a shelf or combing your hair a struggle. You don’t have to continue to live in pain. With the help of one of our Peak Performance physical therapists, you can jump-start your recovery and take your life back from tendinitis pain.
Contact us today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.