Biceps tendonitis can take 2 weeks to 6 months or more to heal, depending on severity. If you are having pain for longer than 2 weeks this problem is no longer called tendonitis but rather, tendinosis and more broadly, tendinopathy.
I’ve worked with many clients who’ve had this issue, I’ve also had it myself!
If it’s a minor irritation and this is the first time it’s happened to you, it’s possible it’ll heal on its own. If it’s a recurrent issue, I highly recommend you read below to ensure that you make progress recovering from this nagging injury.
Without further ado, let’s jump in!
- For run-of-the-mill bicep tendonitis, expect 2-6 weeks of recovery (if you are actively treating it)
- It is possible for tendonitis to become chronic
- Bicep tendons can be torn completely from the bone and in this case may need to be surgically reattached. This is not always the case however it does happen.
- Lifting weights, namely bicep curls, are my primary method of rehabbing bicep tendonitis and tendinosis.
First, let’s define what the bicep and bicep tendon actually, is.
The bicep tendon is the thick band of tissue that attaches the bicep muscle to the shoulder bone and elbow bone. A tendon always attaches a muscle to a bone and generally, there are at least two attachment points, sometimes more.
The bicep muscle produces elbow flexion, supination of the wrist, and flexion of the shoulder due to its varied attachment points.
If you’ve experienced a bicep tendon injury you feel and experience the following: pain, swelling, and weakness in the arm, which can affect daily activities and limit movement.
To prevent this from becoming a long-standing issue, I recommend beginning rehab exercises within the first few days of this occurring.
Symptoms of Bicep Tendon Injury
Alrighty, let’s move on to symptoms.
The most common symptom of a bicep tendon injury is dull and achy pain and sometimes swelling in the shoulder and elbow. Often times there will be an ache in the bicep tendon as well. In my experience with patients, it’s not that common that you have very sharp pain with this injury.
This can be especially noticeable when the arm is moved or when pressure is applied to the area. It’s very common to have sharp pinpoint pain when pressure is applied… so I guess I lied when I said it’s not sharp, ha!
Other symptoms to note include a loss of strength in the arm and a feeling of weakness in the elbow joint.
Diagnosing A Bicep Tendon Injury
If you’ve read any of my blog posts (i’ve got hundreds of them), my recommendation for anything musculoskeletal, meaning anything that is related to a muscle, ligament, tendon, nerve, etc, you should see a physical therapist, first (if you’re able to in your country).
We are much better at diagnosing and treating these types of issues than your primary care doctors, and that will allow your PCPs to see the sick people who need to get in and see them!
When I’m diagnosing a bicep tendon injury I’ll first ask you a variety of questions such as how’d it happen, how long has it been going on, what have you tried to improve symptoms, what makes it feel better and worse, where does it hurt exactly.
In addition to these questions and some others, I then look at if you have pain with shoulder flexion (lifting the arm straight in front of you), and bicep curls. If it doesn’t hurt without weight, I will then ask you to use a two-pound, then five-pound, then eight pounds, and so forth, until we reach a weight that is either difficult or producing symptoms.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll be able to do bicep curls fairly heavy without pain and it will feel a lot better.
If you’re one of the unlucky ones, this hurts and you’ll have to take the rehab process a bit slower and start with lighter weights. You’ll still be able to recover, don’t fret, but just realize it may be a bit longer for you!
So to recap, if the mechanism of injury was an excessive stretch, overuse, or compression, and it hurts when you do bicep curls or lifting the arm in front of you and there is pinpoint pain when pressed at the shoulder joint through the intertubercular groove, this is likely bicep tendonitis or tendinosis.
Treatment for A Bicep Tendon Injury
Treatment for a bicep tendon injury will depend on the severity of the injury. For mild injuries, rest and ice therapy, compression bandaging or bracing, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended. Physical therapy exercises may also be prescribed to help strengthen the muscles and promote healing. For more severe injuries, steroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
If it is a muscle strain and not a complete tear, the method I use with clients is to help them maintain activity while using their shoulders.
For example, I will prescribe bicep curls, light or heavy, depending on how their shoulder tolerates it.
You might be thinking, “bicep curls,” wouldn’t that definitely make it worse?
In some cases, yes, however in most cases that I’ve personally seen, the tension that the weight creates actually reduces symptoms.
I generally recommend two to three sets of ten of light bicep curls for the first week and then adding in an extra set or heavier weight as your symptoms allow.
As you increase the weight I recommend decreasing your frequency to every other day so you can give your bicep tendon time to recuperate.
How Long Does it Take for a Bicep Tendon to Heal?
The amount of time it takes for a bicep tendon to heal will depend on the severity of the injury and the type of treatment chosen. For mild injuries and conservative treatment, the average recovery time is 4-6 weeks. For more severe injuries and surgical intervention, the average recovery time is 6-12 months. Full recovery from surgery may take up to 18 months or more.
I’ll reiterate; if you have not had surgery and are taking the conservative approach it should take around 4-6 weeks. If it becomes chronic due to unforeseen circumstances I have seen people dealing with this for 6+ months, but, it quickly resolved once we started doing the right things.
Tips for Speeding Up Recovery and Improving Results
There is one common error most people make. They try to progress their intensity (too much weight and reps), too soon. Often times this is a very sensitive injury and it can take some time to ramp up. Please don’t be that person that continually tries to “recover faster,” because you are running out of patience.
That never ends well.
Complications of Bicep Tendon Injury
The only reason I’m writing about this section is that it looked like people were interested in this question.
The main complication is that this would become chronic and then you would have a harder time solving the problem.
This is why I recommend early intervention with issues like this. Resting for weeks at a time is not a strategy that will help you recover.
Prevention of Bicep Tendonitis
The best way to prevent a bicep tendon injury is to take measures to strengthen the shoulder and elbow muscles. This includes performing exercises that target the muscles in the shoulder and elbow such as shoulder presses and bicep curls.
My perspective on this is that if you strengthen your muscle and tendons through regular exercise and you get them used to functioning at a high intensity and tolerating exertion, that you will likely experience less debilitating pain throughout your life.
It’s of course still possible to experience injuries while lifting weights, however it’s one of the safest things you can do for yourself in terms of health. I’ve been lifting weights (heavy) for over 16 years and I’ve never had a serious injury. That’s much more than I can say about my time playing soccer, football, or baseball! I got injured every season!
A bicep tendon injury can cause pain, swelling, and weakness in the arm. How long it takes for a bicep tendon to heal will depend on the severity of the injury and the type of treatment chosen. To ensure a full recovery, it is important to follow the doctor’s recommendations carefully and to take measures to prevent future injury which includes lifting weights regularly and ensuring that you are not pushing yourself too hard too fast.