Injury to the biceps muscle and tendon can lead to bicep pain and other symptoms. Causes include overuse of the muscle and trauma, but they can result in different types of injury.

The biceps muscle stretches on the upper arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. However, pain can occur in any part of the upper arm and may not be the result of muscle injury alone.

This article will explore some possible causes of bicep pain. It will also discuss symptoms of each cause and possible treatment.

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Overuse or wear and tear of the biceps muscle can lead to biceps tendinitis. Doctors use this term to describe any kind of inflammation of the biceps tendon.

Symptoms

In addition to bicep pain, biceps tendinitis may cause:

  • pain at the front of the shoulder or achiness that moves down the upper arm bone
  • inflammation of the biceps
  • weakness due to pain when lifting items

Causes

Lifting something heavy or engaging in certain types of physical activity, such as sport, can lead to bicep pain. However, repetitive movements are the most common cause.

Sporting activities can result in bicep pain due to the repetitious use of the muscle. This is particularly common in sports that require repetitive overhead motion, including swimming, baseball, tennis, and golf.

Treatment

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommend the following at-home remedies to relieve symptoms of biceps tendinitis:

  • Rest: A person should rest and avoid activities that can put a strain on the biceps muscle and tendon.
  • Ice: A person can apply cold packs to the biceps muscle for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day. This will help reduce the swelling.
  • Over-the-counter medication: A person can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to reduce the pain and swelling that biceps tendonitis causes.
  • Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening exercises can help improve symptoms and strengthen the arm and shoulder.

Muscle bruises are one of the most common sports injuries.

Symptoms

A person with a bicep bruise may experience the following symptoms in addition to bicep pain:

Causes

Muscle bruises occur when something hits the muscle with force without breaking the skin.

They may occur when a person presses their arm against something during a workout. They could also be the result of a fall.

Treatment

In most cases, muscle bruises will go away on their own. To speed up the healing process, a person can do the following:

  • Rest: Avoid using the injured muscle as much as possible.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs to the bruised area a few times per day for 20 minutes at a time, making sure that the ice is not directly touching the skin.
  • Compression: Wrap the upper arm in a bandage.
  • Elevate: Keep the arm lifted above heart level.

If a lump has developed over the injury site, a doctor may need to drain it to help the injury heal.

Learn more about bruises here.

The humerus is the bone in the upper arm. A fracture of this bone can result in pain. It may also prevent arm movement.

Symptoms

A person with a humerus fracture may experience the following symptoms in the upper arm and surrounding areas:

  • intense pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • a feeling of weakness in the hand or wrist

Causes

A person can indirectly injure their humerus by falling on an outstretched, “locked” arm, which puts too much pressure on the joints and bones.

A person can also injure their humerus by hitting it directly, for example, during a fall or in a car accident.

Treatment

Most humerus fractures do not require surgery. However, it may be necessary for a doctor to immobilize the arm in a cast.

A fractured humerus may take over 12 weeks to heal once a person has sought treatment.

According to some authorities, the closer the fracture is to the elbow, the more likely it is that it will require surgery.

If the fracture is nearer the middle of the arm, there is usually no need for surgery. Treatment in this case may include immobilizing the arm in a cast.

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves in the neck, arm, and hand that are responsible for feeling and movement.

Damage to the musculocutaneous nerve, which runs down the length of the arm, can result in bicep pain and weakness.

Symptoms

In addition to pain, brachial plexus injury can cause the following symptoms in the biceps:

  • weakness
  • numbness
  • severe loss of movement
  • pain throughout the arm and hands

Causes

Types of trauma that can cause brachial plexus injury include:

  • motorcycle or car crashes
  • sports injuries
  • wounds from a gunshot
  • surgical wounds

Treatment

Brachial plexus injury does not usually heal by itself. However, depending on the severity of the injury, a doctor may recommend:

  • Surgery: Types of surgery may include:
    • nerve repairs
    • nerve grafts
    • nerve, muscle, or tendon transfers
  • Physical therapy: This treatment can help restore movement to the shoulder joint.

A 2013 study suggests that waiting more than 6 months for treatment can have negative consequences on the effectiveness of the treatment.

Therefore, a person should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they think they have sustained a brachial plexus injury.

A person experiencing bicep pain should seek guidance from a doctor if the pain has not decreased after they have tried at-home remedies, such as resting and icing the affected area.

They should also contact a doctor if the symptoms significantly worsen, for example, if the swelling increases or if the movement of the arm and shoulder becomes increasingly restricted.

A person should seek emergency medical treatment if they experience:

A doctor may carry out a physical exam, which will include inspecting the arm and shoulder for flushed skin, swelling, lumps, or bruising.

They may then test the shoulder and arm for strength and motion. The doctor may move the arm and shoulder in different ways to check the functioning of the biceps muscle.

To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may order additional tests, including:

  • X-rays: X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to create images of structures in the body. They may be useful in identifying potential problems with the bones of the arm or shoulder.
  • Ultrasound scans: Doctors will use probes that produce sound waves on the skin to create images of bodily structures.
  • MRI scan: An MRI scan uses magnets and radiofrequency currents to produce images of structures inside the body.

Bicep pain can have many different causes. These include biceps tendinitis, brachial plexus injury, and fractures.

Symptoms include pain in the upper arm and elbow area and sometimes can radiate to the forearm. Some people experience swelling or limited movement.

At-home remedies focus on resting the affected muscle and limiting stress on the muscle and tendon.

However, a person should seek medical attention if symptoms do not improve after a week or if they worsen.