Jock Doc

Bicep deformity results from tendon tear — surgery needed to repair

"Chainz," as he is known in the streets, wall presses (no bench) 185 pounds, on top of a wall among other weightlifters in Miami Beach on July 27, 2015. Weightlifting can lead to tendon tears in the biceps.
"Chainz," as he is known in the streets, wall presses (no bench) 185 pounds, on top of a wall among other weightlifters in Miami Beach on July 27, 2015. Weightlifting can lead to tendon tears in the biceps.

Q. Last week I was lifting weights and felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder. I looked at my arm and I had a deformity of my biceps. The pain has been getting less and I have good movement of my arm and my strength is improving. I saw a doctor who told me I tore a biceps tendon and needed surgery. If I am getting better, do I really need surgery? What do you suggest?

A. The biceps muscle has two “heads” that begin as tendons in the shoulder. The long head of the biceps is the tendon that usually tears. When this happens the athlete may be left with an upper-arm deformity that looks like Popeye.

Many times with rest and rehab the arm can regain most of its strength and the pain goes away. The deformity, however, is permanent without surgery. Many factors go into the decision for surgery including age, dominant arm, level of athletic competition, weakness and cosmetic. I have had professional athletes return to play without surgery to repair the long head biceps tendon.

You need to think about these factors when deciding what is best for yourself. You may want to get a second opinion. The surgical procedure to fix the problem involves finding the torn biceps’ tendon and relocating it under the proper tension to the upper part of the humerus (shoulder). Surgical treatment affords the best chance for maximal strength and proper biceps position.

Dr. Harlan Selesnick is team physician of the Miami Heat and director of Miami Sports Medicine Fellowship, Doctors Hospital. Send questions to HarlanS@baptisthealth.net.

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