Q.Three weeks ago I was surfing and jammed my left arm. I had a sharp pain in the back of my elbow and since then, I have had some weakness. The pain is less and the swelling is down but the weakness persists. I saw a doctor, who after reviewing the MRI, said I had a small full thickness triceps tendon tear.
He said because I was 49 and this was my non-dominant arm, I could choose not to have surgery and just do rehab. He said I would have some permanent weakness. I am still active and wonder whether I should live with the weakness or have surgery? What do you suggest?
A. The triceps muscle is very important. It gives your elbow the strength to straighten out.
The muscle becomes a thick tendon as it attaches to the back of your elbow. When the tendon is traumatically injured, it usually tears completely off the bone and surgery is necessary to restore normal strength and function.
Your injury is unusual as only a small portion of your tendon was torn. As you are older and this is your non-dominant arm, nonsurgical treatment is an option, although the degree of permanent weakness is not predictable. You may also be at greater risk for a complete triceps tear if a new injury occurs.
If surgery is done, it should be done soon as it becomes harder to fix three to four weeks post-injury. The advantages of surgery are you are more likely to have better functional outcome. After surgery, however, there is a period of bracing followed by several months of rehab and out of sports up to six months. As your physician stated, the ultimate decision is yours but you should make it soon.
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.