Jock Doc

Torn triceps tendon must be repaired quickly for best results

Q: I am an active 55-year-old who likes to work out and particularly lift weights. Three months ago while lifting, I felt a snap in the back of my elbow. I had pain, swelling and weakness while straightening my arm. I rested it and the pain improved, but the weakness has persisted. I saw an orthopedic surgeon who said I tore my triceps tendon off the bone and because I waited three months, it would be hard to fix. I really like to lift and do not want to give it up. How likely is it that surgery to fix the triceps tendon will work?

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Dr. Harlan Selesnick

A: The triceps is a muscle that helps you extend your elbow. The muscle becomes a tendon where it attaches to the olecranon bone in the back of your elbow.

When the injury first happens, it is usually easy to attach back to the bone as scar tissue has not yet formed even if the tear is wide. After several weeks, scar tissue forms, making it difficult to mobilize the muscle and tendon. Without examining you and reviewing your MRI, it would be difficult to assess how retracted the tendon is and how much scar tissue has formed.

It is not likely you will improve much beyond this point without surgery. Despite the delay, there are surgical techniques that can usually get an improved result compared with non-operative treatment. If you are still uncertain as to your chance of success, you may want to get a second opinion.

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