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Bicep Pain – Types, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

By Born Tough on

1. Introduction

While bicep pain is usually not a cause for alarm, it can be extremely discomforting. The pain can go up to your arm and into your back, making it difficult to bend your elbow or flex those hard-earned muscles.

Moreover, it can also restrict your ability to exercise, work, or get things done around the house. Therefore, it’s important to understand the reason behind this pain to avoid it in the first place.

This article will help you learn about various types of bicep pain, why it occurs, and how you can relieve such pain.

2. Biceps Muscle Anatomy

Biceps Muscle Anatomy

Technically, the bicep is any muscle that consists of two heads (long and short) which act together as one muscle.

In humans, there are two types of biceps.

2.1. Biceps Brachii

Biceps Brachii

Located on the front side of the upper arm, the bicep brachii is responsible for lifting and moving your forearms and shoulders.

It consists of three tendons in total. Two (long and short head) tendons attach the biceps to the shoulders via the scapula bone. One distal tendon connects the bicep to the elbow bone via radius bone.

2.2. Biceps Femoris

Biceps Femoris

Located at the back of the thigh, the biceps femoris is one of the hamstring muscles responsible for extending and flexing the thighs and legs.

It originates in two places (ischium - the rear part of the pelvis, and femur - thigh bone). Fibers from these two points join and attach to the top of the tibia and fibula (lower leg bones).

Biceps Femoris

3. Causes of Biceps Pain

Any damage or injury to the above-mentioned bicep muscles or tendons can result in aching biceps pain.

The common causes of bicep pain include:

  • Muscle tear
  • Repetitive movements
  • Excessive strength and weight training
  • Injuries from sports and exercises
  • Abrupt Lifting of heavy objects
  • Overuse of steroids
  • Other medical conditions such as joint pain, bone dislocation, etc.

4. Symptoms of Biceps Pain

  • Muscle weakness
  • Bruising
  • Aching pain in the arm (or thighs in case of bicep femoris)
  • Snapping sound while rotating arms
  • Elbow Tenderness and Muscle Cramps

5. Types of Bicep Pain

There are two main types of bicep pain depending upon the type of muscle affected.

  1. Bicep Tendon Pain
  2. Bicep Femoris Pain

5.1. Bicep Tendon Pain

Most of the bicep pain stems from damaged tendons. Although tendons are tough tissues, they can be injured if muscles are used frequently.

Bicep tendon pain can result from three types of bicep injuries.

Tendon Rupture/Tear

Tendon Rupture/Tear

In this condition, the tendon is torn away from the bone, either partially or completely. Tendon tears mostly occur at the shoulders or at the elbows.

  • Proximal tendon tear refers to a tear that occurs in the long head of the bicep tendon attached to the shoulder.
  • Distal tendon tear refers to the tears that occur in the tendon attaching the bicep brachii to the elbow

Causes:
Injury, overuse, heavy lifting, sudden movements.

Symptoms:
Sharp pain, bruises, muscle weakness, difficulty in rotating arm.

Treatment:
Minor tears can be treated non-surgically by getting proper rest and medication. However, in case of a complete tear, surgery may be performed to fix the torn tendon.

Tendon Dislocation

Tendon Dislocation

Tendon dislocation, also known as tendon instability or tendon subluxation, happens when the long head of the biceps tendon is displaced from the anatomical groove where it usually sits.

Causes:
Complications following a shoulder injury such as a rotator cuff tear.

Symptoms:
Snapping sound while rotating your arm, pain in the front of the shoulder.

Treatment:
Dislocated tendon can be fixed by applying casts or compression bandages to immobilize the injured zone. You can also use ice or take drugs to reduce the inflammation. Surgery may be required to fix the tendon in severe cases.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis

Biceps tendinitis refers to swelling or inflammation in the bicep tendon due to micro tears caused by the overuse.

Causes:
Repetitive movements, sudden load, everyday wear, and tear, etc.

Symptoms:
Swelling and pain in the affected area, clicking sound when the rotating arm, changing or unnatural skin color, etc.

Treatment:
Rest, physical therapy, medication and steroids are effective ways to treat bicep tendonitis.

Also Read: How to Train with Bicep Tendonitis – Stretches and Exercises

5.2. Bicep Femoris Pain

Bicep Femoris Pain

Pain in the bicep femoris usually results from a condition called Bicep Femoris Tendinopathy or Tendinitis.

In this condition, inflammation is produced inside the bicep femoris tendon, which is present on the outside of the back of the knee.

It causes gradual pain at the outside of the back of the knee that usually occurs after the exercise. If ignored, the pain may persist for a longer duration even during the exercise.

Causes:
Sports involving excessive acceleration and deceleration, repetitive use of bicep femoris muscle

Symptoms:
Muscle weakness and stiffness, swelling in the affected area, reduced range of motion, pain in the back of the knee.

Treatment:
Physiotherapy, rest, medication, cold and warm compress.

5.3. Know Your Biceps Pain

Pain in the left and right side of the bicep

Pain near the elbow, shoulder, or at the right and left of the bicep can result from tendonitis or any damage done to either the long or short head of the tendon.

Pain in the left arm can also occur due to a heart attack. This occurs when a portion of the heart is deprived of the blood needed to operate properly.

Pain in the middle of the bicep

Pain in the middle of the bicep may result either from muscle strain or muscle bruise. It can be caused by any strenuous activity, e.g. sports, heavy lifting, etc.

I) Muscle Bruise

Bruising occurs when the blood vessels inside the muscle are crushed due to a blunt force. Blood seeps from the ruptured vessels and then becomes trapped inside the muscle. The bruised muscle might be painful to touch.

The best way to treat the pain is to follow the RICE protocol i.e rest, ice, compression, and elevation

II) Muscle Strain

Muscle strain or pull happens when too much pressure is placed on the muscle, causing the muscle fibers to tear.

Like any other bicep pain, it can be treated at home with ice, rest, and proper medication.

For a deeper understanding, see the bicep strain in detail here.

III) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS occurs whenever the muscles are overworked, normally during exercises. It mostly happens when beginning a new exercise or increasing the intensity of an existing one.

Bicep discomfort and soreness are common symptoms. Straightening the arm or carrying things may be painful.

The pain normally begins six to eight hours after you exercise and lasts up to 48 hours. Rest, massage and over-the-counter NSAIDs are good for treatment.

6. Treatment of Biceps Pain

You can treat any type of bicep pain effectively with the following methods:

At-Home Treatments

  • Apply ice for at least 20 minutes to the injured area to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Rest as much as possible to alleviate the pain. Give your muscles ample time to heal.
  • Use medication such as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs to reduce the discomfort. Make sure to rest well while being on the medication

Other Treatments

  • Surgery is needed if there is a severe damage to your bicep muscle or tendon which cannot be treated with medication.
  • Physical Therapy is another effective way to restore your damaged biceps muscles and tendons.

7. Prevention of Biceps Pain

Prevention is the best cure for any type of bicep pain. To prevent the bicep pain from occurring, you should:

  • Avoid any physical activity that can stimulate the pain
  • Avoid excessive exercise and take things slowly
  • Follow a proper posture while playing sports or working out

8. Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my bicep hurt all of a sudden?

Sudden bicep pain may be the result of an injury to the tendon or a tear in the muscle fiber. Such sharp pain is abnormal while weightlifting and should be evaluated immediately. However, this type of sudden pain can also be caused by muscle cramps, which can be treated by rest.

How much time is required to heal a bicep tear?

A mild bicep tear usually takes a week or two to heal properly. But the healing time can be prolonged from one to five weeks if a surgery is required.

Why does my bicep hurt at night?

Biceps tendinopathy, or tears of the upper biceps tendon, can be caused by lifting, tugging, reaching, or throwing repeatedly. Biceps tendinopathy causes pain at the front of the shoulder, which usually gets worse at night. Pain may increase with pulling, lifting and other strenuous activities.

What is the recovery time for the bicep strain?

Being a common workout-related injury, bicep strain usually takes a few days to recover. The recovery time also depends on the amount of rest you take during that period.

Is a bicep tear painful?

Yes, a bicep tear is usually painful. In fact, severe sharp pain in the upper arm or elbow is the most common symptom of the bicep tear. However, in case of tendonosis (a condition involving gradual deterioration of collagen in the tendon) can be painless.

Why do my biceps hurt after a workout?

It is common for the biceps to hurt after the workout due to the stress put on the muscles during the exertion. This condition is called muscle soreness, also known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. The pain is completely normal and can start within six to eight hours after the exercise. It can last up to one to two days after the exercise.

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