Bicep Tendon Tear at the Shoulder: Surgical Options Treatment

bicep tendon tear at shoulder surgery recovery time


Bicep tendon tears at the shoulder are a common injury, particularly among athletes and individuals engaged in heavy lifting or repetitive overhead activities. This type of injury can lead to significant pain, weakness, and a decrease in the range of motion, affecting one’s ability to perform daily tasks and engage in sports or other physical activities.

Understanding the nature of bicep tendon tears at shoulder, their causes, and treatment options, including surgical interventions, is crucial for effective recovery and return to normal function. In this blog post, we will explore the anatomy of the bicep tendon, the causes and risk factors for tears, and the various treatment options available, with a focus on surgical solutions. We aim to provide comprehensive insights to help individuals navigate their recovery journey from a bicep tendon tear at the shoulder.

What Is Bicep Tendon Tears At The Shoulder?

The biceps muscle, located at the front of the upper arm, plays a critical role in the ability to bend the elbow and rotate the forearm. It is attached to the shoulder bones by two tendons: the long-head tendon, which attaches to the top of the shoulder socket, and the short-head tendon, which attaches to a bony bump on the shoulder blade. A bicep tendon tear at the shoulder typically involves the long head of the bicep tendon.

This type of tear can be either partial, where the tendon is not completely severed, or complete, where the tendon splits into two pieces. In many cases, bicep tendon tears result from a sudden injury or gradual wear and tear. Symptoms often include a sharp pain in the shoulder, bruising, weakness in the arm, and a noticeable change in the shape of the bicep muscle.

Understanding the structure and function of the bicep tendon is essential for recognizing the signs of a tear and seeking appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the outcomes for individuals experiencing this type of injury.

Causes of Bicep Tendon Tear at the Shoulder: Sudden Injury, Overuse

Bicep tendon tears at the shoulder commonly result from two primary causes: sudden injuries and overuse.

Sudden Injury: This typically occurs during heavy lifting or when catching a heavy object unexpectedly. It can also happen during a fall or direct blow to the shoulder, where the force is strong enough to tear the tendon. Athletes, particularly those engaged in contact sports or activities requiring repetitive arm movements, are at higher risk.

Overuse: Repetitive motion can lead to wear and tear of the bicep tendon over time. This is often seen in occupations requiring repetitive lifting or overhead activities, such as construction work or painting. Overuse can also occur in sports like swimming, tennis, or bodybuilding, where the shoulder is consistently under strain.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of experiencing a bicep tendon tear at the shoulder. Understanding these can help in preventing the injury or in seeking early treatment if symptoms arise.

Age: Individuals over 30 are more susceptible to tendon injuries as tendons become less flexible and more prone to tearing with age.

Occupation: Jobs that require repetitive overhead activities or heavy lifting can increase the risk of bicep tendon tears.

Sports Participation: Athletes involved in sports that require repetitive arm movements, such as baseball, tennis, and swimming, are at a higher risk.

Weight Lifting: Improper lifting techniques or lifting excessive weights can strain the bicep tendons, leading to tears.

Corticosteroid Use: Long-term use of corticosteroids, either systemically or injected into the joint, can weaken tendons and make them more prone to injury.

Shoulder Overuse: Overusing the shoulder joint without adequate rest and recovery can lead to wear and tear of the bicep tendon.

Smoking: Smoking can impair blood flow to the tendons, affecting their ability to repair and maintain strength.

Pre-existing Shoulder Conditions: Conditions such as impingement, rotator cuff tears, or previous shoulder injuries can increase the risk of a bicep tendon tear.

Recognizing these risk factors and addressing them where possible can significantly reduce the likelihood of a bicep tendon tear.

Surgical Treatment of Bicep Tendon Tear at the Shoulder

Surgical Treatment of Bicep Tendon Tear at the Shoulder

When non-surgical treatments do not provide relief or in cases of severe tendon tears, surgical intervention may be recommended. The goal of surgery is to reattach the torn tendon to the bone, restore normal arm function, and prevent further injury. There are different surgical techniques used, but one common procedure is bicep tenodesis, where the torn section of the bicep is reattached to the bone using screws or other fixation devices.

Pre-surgery Preparations

Medical Evaluations: Before undergoing surgery for a bicep tendon injury, such as a distal biceps tendon tear or shoulder impingement, it is crucial to undergo thorough medical evaluations. This will ensure that you are physically fit for the procedure. Your healthcare provider may review your medical history and perform a physical exam, including tests such as blood work, imaging scans, and electrocardiograms, to assess your overall health and identify any potential risks. They may also evaluate the condition of your biceps tendons and the attachment of muscles to bones.

Medications and Supplements: Inform your healthcare provider about any medications or supplements you are currently taking, as some may need to be adjusted or discontinued before surgery. This includes anti-inflammatory medications that could affect recovery.

Lifestyle Adjustments: In the days leading up to surgery, making lifestyle adjustments is essential, especially if dealing with a minor injury. Avoid activities that could exacerbate your condition, ensuring a better environment for complete recovery. Maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and get adequate rest to support the healing of arm muscles.

Home Preparation: Preparing your home for recovery post-biceps tenodesis or other surgical treatments is crucial. Ensure you have a comfortable and accessible space to rest and recuperate. Stock up on necessary supplies, including medications, ice packs, and comfortable clothing, to aid in the recovery of mild injuries.

Understanding the Recovery Process: Gain a clear understanding of the recovery process from your healthcare provider, especially what to expect regarding pain management, physical therapy for bicep tendon injuries, and activity restrictions.

Arrangements for the Day of Surgery: Make arrangements for transportation and assistance on the day of surgery. It’s crucial to plan for someone to help with household tasks and caregiving during the initial stages of recovery, particularly as you rehabilitate from a bicep tendon injury.

Post-Surgery Appointments: After surgery, follow-up appointments are crucial to monitor progress and adjust treatment plans as needed. These appointments are vital for assessing the reattachment of muscles to bones and ensuring the health of Biceps tendons.

Mental Preparation: The experience of undergoing surgery, such as biceps tenodesis for a distal biceps tendon tear or related bicep tendon injuries, can be stressful. Mentally preparing yourself, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking support can be beneficial. Staying positive about your recovery journey is crucial for overall well-being and complete recovery.

By adequately preparing for surgery, you can help ensure a smooth and successful recovery from a bicep tendon rupture. Remember to closely follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations and guidelines to optimize your outcomes.

The Surgical Procedure Step-by-Step

Bicep tenodesis is a common surgical technique used to repair a bicep tendon tear at the shoulder. During the procedure, the torn section of the bicep tendon is reattached to the bone using screws or other fixation devices. The surgeon carefully repositions the tendon and secures it in place to restore normal arm function and prevent further injury. This surgical intervention aims to provide long-term relief and improve the patient’s ability to engage in daily activities and sports.

  1. Anesthesia and Patient Preparation: Patients are typically placed under general anesthesia. The shoulder area is then cleaned and prepared for surgery.
  2. Incision and Exposure: A small incision is made near the shoulder to access the damaged tendon.
  3. Assessment and Mobilization: The surgeon assesses the extent of the damage and mobilizes the tendon for repair.
  4. Tenodesis Procedure: The tendon is then fixed back onto the bone using screws or anchors.
  5. Closure: The incision is closed with sutures or staples.
  6. Postoperative Care: The arm is often immobilized in a sling to ensure proper healing.
  7. Follow-Up: Regular follow-up appointments are necessary to monitor the healing process and begin rehabilitation.

Post-surgery Care Specific to Timely Medical’s Approach

Timely Medical provides a comprehensive post-surgery care plan, including detailed instructions for care at home, pain management, and physical therapy protocols to ensure the best possible recovery outcomes.

Surgical intervention for a bicep tendon tear can lead to excellent results when followed by proper rehabilitation. Patients can often return to their normal activities, including sports and heavy lifting, with improved strength and reduced pain.

Risks & Complications

Like any surgical procedure, shoulder bicep tendon surgery comes with its set of risks and potential complications. Patients need to understand these to make informed decisions regarding their treatment options.

Common Surgical Risks: These include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, and reactions to anesthesia. While these risks are relatively rare, they are important to consider and discuss with your healthcare provider.

Specific Complications Related to Bicep Tendon Surgery: These can include persistent stiffness or weakness, difficulty in regaining full range of motion, tendon re-tear, or cosmetic deformities. In some cases, patients may experience issues related to the hardware used for tendon attachment, such as discomfort or the need for removal.

Managing Complications and Revision Surgery: If complications arise, additional treatment or surgery may be necessary. It’s crucial to follow post-operative care instructions and attend all follow-up appointments to monitor recovery and address any issues promptly.

How to Mitigate Risks & Complications

How to Mitigate Risks & Complications

Patients can reduce their risk of complications by selecting an experienced surgeon, following all pre- and post-surgery instructions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle to support recovery, and promptly reporting any concerning symptoms to their healthcare provider.

Understanding these risks and actively participating in your recovery process can help ensure the best possible outcome from your surgery.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

When a bicep tendon tear at the shoulder is not severe, non-surgical treatment options can be effective in managing pain and promoting healing. These options include:

Initial Care and the RICE Method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) can help reduce swelling and pain in the initial days following the injury.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Exercises: A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to restore strength and flexibility to the shoulder and arm.

Medications and Injections for Pain Management: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid injections can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Criteria for Considering Surgery

Surgery may be considered if non-surgical treatments fail to offer adequate relief, if the injury involves a complete tear, or if the patient needs full strength and functionality for their activities. It is important to note, however, that the incidence of postoperative complications following the surgical repair of distal biceps tendon injuries is notably high, with reported rates ranging from 15% to 35%. This factor should be carefully considered when evaluating the necessity and timing of surgery.

Post-Surgical Rehabilitation

Bicep tendon shoulder surgery recovery involves a period of rest followed by physical therapy to regain strength and mobility.

Immediate Post-Surgery Care: Patients typically wear a sling to immobilize the shoulder and are advised on wound care and pain management.

Physical Therapy Protocols: Gradual rehabilitation exercises help restore movement and strength.

Long-term Rehabilitation Strategies: These may include strengthening exercises and adjustments to activities to prevent future injuries.

Expected Recovery Timeline: Bicep tendon tear at shoulder surgery recovery time may vary from patient to patient, depending on many factors, but will usually take 4-6 months, with full recovery taking up to a year.

Importance of Follow-up Check-ups

Regular appointments with the healthcare provider are crucial to monitor the healing process and adjust the rehabilitation plan as needed. If complications arise or if there’s a need for further intervention, considering a search for “private shoulder surgery near me” could provide additional specialized care options and ensure continued personalized attention to your recovery journey.


Understanding the causes, treatment options, and recovery processes for bicep tendon tears at the shoulder can help individuals navigate their healing journey more effectively. Whether through surgical or non-surgical means, the goal is to return to normal activities with strength and without pain. Consulting with healthcare professionals to tailor the treatment to the individual’s specific needs is essential for a successful recovery.


Can a bicep tear repair on its own?

Partial tears may heal over time with proper care, but complete tears typically require surgery to regain full function.

What happens if you don’t repair a torn bicep tendon at the shoulder?

Failing to treat a torn bicep tendon can lead to weakness, reduced arm function, and chronic pain.

How do I know if my bicep tear needs surgery?

Surgery is usually recommended for complete tears or when non-surgical treatments fail to improve symptoms. An evaluation by a healthcare professional can determine the best course of action.

About The Author

Christian Baker

Christian was born in a Group Health hospital in Washington state and holds both American & Canadian citizenship. Christian is the head of our diagnostic & ambulatory surgery department for our Canadian…

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