Kellie K. Middleton, MD

What You Should Know About Bicep Tendonitis

Jul 21, 2022
What You Should Know About Bicep Tendonitis
Have you recently hurt your arm or shoulder? Are you confident it’s fine, or are you experiencing extended pain and inflammation? If you chose the latter, you might be dealing with a case of bicep tendonitis...

Have you recently hurt your arm or shoulder? Are you confident it’s fine, or are you experiencing extended pain and inflammation? If you chose the latter, you might be dealing with a case of bicep tendonitis.

Thankfully, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about bicep tendonitis, so you know what to expect if you need to seek medical assistance.

What Is Bicep Tendonitis?

Bicep tendonitis is an injury that affects the shoulder and elbow, due to swelling and inflammation in the tendon of the bicep muscle. This tendon, one of two tendons in the bicep muscle, connects the muscle to the shoulder blade bone. These are the long head, or glenoid, and the short head.

There are two types of bicep tendonitis: distal bicep tendonitis and proximal bicep tendonitis. The former involves inflammation where the bicep tendon connects to the elbow and the latter where the bicep tendon connects to the shoulder.

If it is not treated, bicep tendonitis can lead to a partial or complete tear in the tendon, which often results in a permanent arm deformity known as a ‘popeye’ bulge.

What Causes Bicep Tendonitis?

As mentioned, inflammation of the bicep tendon is what leads to bicep tendonitis. Tendon inflammation in this area of the body can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • The repetitive motion of the tendon, particularly overhead.
  • Pre-existing injuries to the rotator cuff muscles, or bone abnormalities in the shoulder
  • Heavy lifting
  • Wear and tear due to aging
  • Contact sports like gymnastics and martial arts
  • Taking up new activities that overextend your bicep muscles compared to what they are used to
  • Poor posture

Though bicep tendonitis can occur in athletes between the ages of 18-35, it is most likely to affect older people due to the natural degeneration of the tendon with age. However, playing sports frequently can be a significant risk factor, as bicep tendonitis can be a form of repetitive strain injury.


If you or someone you know is experiencing a combination of these symptoms, contact a medical professional as you may be dealing with bicep tendonitis.

  • Pain: Throbbing pain in the shoulders and arms is consist with bicep tendonitis. With proximal bicep tendonitis, the pain will be felt at the front of the shoulder and down the arm, whereas pain related to distal bicep tendonitis will be felt in the elbow and the top of the forearm. Pain will worsen with overhead movement and may be felt more intensely at night. Swelling of the afflicted area may also be an issue.
  • Mobility: muscle weakness and difficulty moving the joints of the shoulder or elbow are all in line with bicep tendonitis.
  • Sensations: tenderness in the damaged part of the tendon is common, and will be especially noticeable when touching the affected area. You may also feel a snapping or clicking sensation when moving your shoulder.


A doctor will discuss symptoms and run tests to ensure that bicep tendonitis is the correct diagnosis. This means testing the mobility of the arm and taking MRI scans and X-rays. This will show any tears to the tendons and rule out the possibility of alternative causes.


There are a few different bicep tendonitis treatment routes that can be taken, which will be decided once the extent of the injury is known.

Rest and OTC Medication

For mild cases of tendonitis, simpler methods will be prescribed. This includes rest first and foremost, giving the arms, elbows, and shoulders time to recuperate by avoiding any strenuous activity. Ice packs can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation.

OTC medication may also be prescribed, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen) to reduce related pain and swelling.

Physical Therapy

For more significant injury, the doctor may recommend a physical therapist to set a routine of pre-approved bicep tendonitis exercises and stretches that will help to rebuild strength and range of motion in the injured shoulder.

Steroid Injections

If tendonitis persists after rest and OTC medication, steroid injections can be injected into the bicep as a way to further relieve pain and inflammation. This will usually occur after 6 weeks or so with no marked improvement in pain management.

Bicep tendonitis can be a painful obstacle to living a normal and active life, but with early diagnosis and treatment, it doesn’t have to last long.

If you have been diagnosed with bicep tendonitis or are concerned that you might have damaged the tendons in your bicep, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Kellie K Middleton MD. We specialize in orthopedic surgery, pain management, and physical therapy for knee injuries, shoulder injuries, and other related sports injuries. Give us a call at +770-509-4030 or email us to set up your first consultation.