The biceps, aka guns, pythons, noodles, whatever fits the context, are arguably the most well-known muscles in the body. People generally associate them with strength and function, but hardly anyone knows about injuries typically associated with the biceps, which is completely understandable. Contrary to popular belief, these muscles are actually injured quite often (or at least more often than many people think), and having a little more in-depth knowledge can go a long way in helping yourself recover from a biceps injury.Therefore, in this article, I would like to highlight some key concepts regarding the anatomy of the biceps, the more common injuries that occur to the biceps, and some information on what types of braces can help with certain injuries.
Anatomy of the Biceps
Seems pretty simple – it’s the muscle you can flex on the front of your upper arm! However, there are actually multiple muscles in the area that all work together. They each have unique characteristics, but when they work as a team, they provide highly functional and strong movements to allow us to perform anything from holding a cup of coffee to pushing them to their limits with a dumbbell curl. Here is the basic information you need to know about the different biceps muscles.
Biceps Brachii Tendons:
This is the main biceps muscle that you can see the the most easily, especially when you flex your biceps. At its upper end, it split into two different tendons (tendons are the ribbon-like structures that connect muscle to bone, e.g. the cords on the back of your hand when you move your fingers around). Origin:
These two tendons are referred to as the long head and the short head. In this case, the difference doesn’t really matter, just know that they both attach around the shoulder, so they actually cross the shoulder joint. Insertion:
The tendons come together and you can actually see them turning into two different muscle bellies that eventually just fuse together. This muscle belly is what you see when you flex. On the other side of this muscle belly is another tendon that goes to the forearm. Specifically, this tendon attaches tot he radial tuberosity, which is simply a spot on the radius bone in your upper forearm. The radius is the bone you can feel on the thumb side of your forearm. Who Cares?
So why does all of this attachment stuff matter? It matters because the tendons are often structures that are injured, and sometime they can actually detach from the bone if the injury is severe enough (we will talk about this injury below). Secondly, it helps to figure out what movements this muscle can perform, and so if you know what type of movement is weak or painful, you can have an idea of where the problem may lie.Movements:
Therefore, knowing that the biceps brachii tendons cross both the shoulder joint (origin = above shoulder) and the elbow joint (insertion = upper forearm), then you can determine that these are the joints that can move when using the biceps. Elbow flexion with your palm facing up is the main movement this muscle is responsible for, but it can also assist with turning your palm from facing the ground to facing the sky (this is called supination – think of turning a door handle), as well as raising your arm in front of you while keeping it straightened (shoulder flexion).
This muscle originates from around the same area as biceps brachii (above the shoulder), but it only crosses the shoulder joint. That means its insertion (other attachment) is on the humerus, which is the bone of the upper arm, rather than on the forearm. Therefore, it has no action at the elbow
joint, but helps biceps brachii and the shoulder muscles to flex the shoulder joint, which is raising your straightened arm up in front of you.
This one is basically the opposite of coracobrachialis. It originates on the humerus, crosses the elbow joint, and inserts onto the upper forearm. Therefore, it has no action at the shoulder since it does not cross that joint, but does have a lot of power at the elbow joint. In fact, it can actually generate as much, if not more power than the biceps brachii, but it’s mainly active when your palm is facing down towards the ground (pronation).
I save my favorite for last. Why is this my favorite? it’s the beer-drinking muscle! It’s attachments are somewhat similar to the brachialis muscle (so only acts on the elbow joint), but the insertion is lower down the forearm on the thumb side. It really helps with elbow flexion when your forearm is halfway between pronation and supination, in other words, when your hand is bringing a can of beer (or your beverage of choice) towards your mouth.
Common Biceps Injuries
So now that we know a bit more about the different muscles that make up the general biceps group, are they prone to any particular injuries? From a structural perspective, they are quite stable and protected compared to something like ligaments around the knee, but since we use the biceps for a lot of different tasks, they are still susceptible to injury based purely on the amount that we use them. Here are some of the more common injuries and conditions:
First, I need to quickly get something out of the way. You may have seen the term “tendonitis” a lot before. Any time you see a word ending with “…itis”, that indicates that the problem is associated with inflammation. Recently, a lot a of evidence has emerged indicating that what we often think is tendonitis actually isn’t anything to do with inflammation, but rather, with degradation of the tendon itself, and is known as tendinopathy
. This doesn’t mean that tendonitis cannot happen, but just know that there are a lot of things that can contribute with pain due to a tendon problem. We are lumping these injuries together because they usually present in a very similar manner and are each a result of longterm use. This usually happens closer to the shoulder, as the tendons have more bony structures that they need to slide between, and depending on the shoulder movements involved, can actually pinch or squeeze the tendon, which is usually a result of overhead arm movements. We don’t usually feel this until it becomes damaged and irritated, which results in pain.Symptoms of biceps tendonitis are usually rather vague, but pain is the underlying theme. The pain is usually located around the shoulder
, but may radiate down the front of the arm, especially with movement. You may also notice a weird “catching” sensation or clicking sound with shoulder movements. Additionally, there often isn’t any acute trauma associated with this injury. Instead, it sort of comes on over time, but may flare up once it hits a certain threshold, usually after participating in an activity that required shoulder movements.
Treatment for biceps tendonitis usually involves physiotherapy to some degree. This is because most medications that you can take for this condition will address the pain, but not the actual problem. With physiotherapy, you can strengthen and stretch certain muscles to make it less irritating on the biceps, as well as other more hands-on treatments that can help with both the underlying cause and the current symptoms. Sometimes the doctor may also prescribe corticosteroid injections, but these should only be used in the short-term, not relied on for long-term treatment (unless deemed necessary by the doctor).For information on managing your symptoms with medications, we suggest visiting your doctor or pharmacist. In any case, it’s best to visit either your doctor or physiotherapist to determine what the problem is, as well as the extent of the problem, to make sure you’re actually getting it right. There are a lot of other structures in the area, especially the shoulder, so an expert opinion is needed to differentiate between different problems.
A biceps tear
, also called a torn biceps or ruptured biceps
, is a more acute and traumatic injury where the muscle tears partially or completely. Specifically, when a muscle is only partially torn, this is referred to as a st
rain is for ligaments), but if it’s completely torn so that there is no longer a a connection, then this is referred to as a tear or a rupture.It may sound counter-intuitive, but strains can often be more painful than full ruptures, due mainly to the fact that when you contract a muscle that is fully ruptured, it usually won’t stress the area around the rupture. Compare this to a strain (partial tear), whereby contracting a muscle will pull on that partial tear, making it hurt a LOT.To be honest, at this point in my experience I can’t say what is more common, but full ruptures do happen quite a bit. This actually happens quite a bit in rodeo setting when the riders have their hands essentially strapped into the saddle. That said, rupture happen whenever the force on the muscle exceeds what the muscle is capable of, and you don’t have room to compensate. This means the movement that causes the injury is really fast and strong. If you think of a bull rider with his or her hand almost locked into the saddle, a sudden/strong kick from the bull can snap on that muscle, causing the tendon to either rupture or pull off from the bone.
In this case, there will be quite a bit of pain from the initial trauma, and you may notice a deformity in your arm, often on the inside of your arm where it’s usually easiest to see the muscle flexing. This is because the tendon is basically rolling up your arm after becoming torn or detached. For this reason, it is essential the you seek professional health advice as soon as possible. If you see this type of deformity, especially if it’s coupled with tremendous pain and weakness, it is probably best to go straight to the ER. In any case, as long as you seek out help as soon as possible, that’s the main thing. better safe than sorry.Treatment for a torn biceps usually requires surgery to re-attach the muscle, which is when braces really come in handy. For strains, surgery may or may not be advised. Strains can often be rehabilitated with physiotherapy, but again, it just depends on the extent of the injury. Don’t rely on your own diagnosis, even if it fits perfectly with my description. A health professional who can take a look and perform some physical tests is the best way to receive a proper diagnosis.
Best Braces for Biceps Injuries
Whether or not a brace will help with your recovery will depend on the exact injury, but here is a little guidance if this is something you want to learn a little more about. We will highlight a few of our favorite biceps braces and briefly touch on what sorts of injuries or conditions they may help with.
As you may have guessed from the name, the DLX Range of Motion Post-Op Elbow Brace is meant to be used after surgery to the elbow. The elbow means more than just the bones that form the joint. In the case of the biceps muscles, this brace could be suitable after surgery for a ruptured biceps tendon when immobilization is necessary for healing. The nice thing about this brace is that it can be locked to act like a cast for when total immobilization is necessary, which would be in the very immediate timeframe after surgery. Once the doctors feel it’s ok to start moving the elbow a little bit, the brace has stoppers that can be set every 15 degrees. This means your elbow is able to flex and extend, but the stoppers prevent it from going too far, which is essential for an injury that requires very gradual progression of movement.The brace itself looks quite clunky, which may be a turn off to some folks, but any brace with this type of stability and functionality will be quite bulky. In reality, this brace could actually be considered quite slim for its purpose, so taken in context, this is a really nice brace.
The Simien Tennis Elbow Brace isn’t really for biceps injuries, but it does help alleviate pain due to tendonitis and tendinopathy of the other tendons crossing the elbow joint, which is referred to as tennis elbow
or golfers elbow
depending on which tendons are involved.It may not look at all like a brace, which is actually correct. I would refer to it more as a strap. Nevertheless, it’s still highly functional and can really help with the aforementioned conditions. It provides compression tot he area and also helps to alter the line of pull of the problematic tendons, which helps alleviate stress and irritation that has built up over time.However, we should emphasize that this brace/strap won’t do anything for more acute biceps injuries or for tendon problems further up the arm. Additionally, it doesn’t provide any added stability to the elbow joint, so it’s geared specifically towards those tendon conditions. In summary, I would not consider this brace to be versatile, but it is really good at helping with tennis elbow and golfers elbow.
This brace, or “cuff”, is a pretty unique design. It’s application is fairly specific to the biceps and triceps and their associates tendons. Basically, this brace will help alleviate pain from tendon problems, and as opposed to the tennis/golfers elbow brace we reviewed above, this brace will actually help with irritated tendons closer to the shoulder (assuming they are part of the biceps or triceps). It also claims to help with biceps and/or triceps strains, but aside from helping a little bit with pain, we would be hesitant to tell someone this will actually help heal
the injury.People who wear this brace tend to like it for some pain reduction during functional activities, meaning they are pretty far along in their recovery, or are dealing with more nagging injuries. For example, working out or doing yard work or housework that requires a lot of arm movement seem to be the best applications.Once again, the downside of this brace is that it can’t stop you from moving too much (if that’s something you need), and it won’t provide any stability for the elbow or shoulder joints, but again, for tendon problems or very late stage strain recovery, this could be a brace to help you get back to your old self sooner rather than later.
While this is a fairly large article, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to biceps injuries and treatment. These are by far the most common injuries, and the information presented about treatment is fairly general, so we hope it helps with your overall understanding. Additionally, our picks for the best biceps braces are our own opinions, but there is a lot more out there, so don’t be afraid to shop around and find what works best for you. Lastly, we mentioned this a lot throughout the article, but if you are concerned about an injury to your bicep (or anywhere), we would highly suggest seeking professional help from a doctor or physiotherapist.