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Bicipital Tendon Injuries Treatment & Management

  • Author: John P Salvo, Jr, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Harris Gellman, MD  more...
Updated: May 04, 2016

Approach Considerations

Most surgeons agree that the vast majority of bicipital tendon ruptures benefit from early surgical repair. Indications for surgical intervention include a complete tendon rupture, with or without lacertus fibrosus rupture, in an otherwise healthy, cooperative, and active individual. Acute ruptures are best treated early, within 8 weeks of the injury. Chronic injuries may require reconstruction or augmentation of the tendon, a much more complicated procedure.[3]

Surgical repair of a bicipital tendon rupture has few contraindications. Contraindications include the presence of little functional impairment from the injury, medical contraindications to a surgical procedure, and a sedentary or uncooperative patient. A relative contraindication is chronic disruption. Because of tendon retraction and muscle contraction, it is difficult or impossible to reattach the tendon anatomically to the radial tuberosity. In these situations, delayed reconstruction using autograft or allograft tissue is required, and the outcome is less dependable.

With early repair, success rates with either the two-incision or the one-incision technique (see Surgical Therapy) are high. The use of multiple drill holes instead of a high-speed burr to excavate the radial tuberosity should improve outcomes by decreasing the incidence of synostosis. The one-incision approach will continue to advance with the development of more anatomic repair techniques. In theory, a greater emphasis on anatomic repair of the distal biceps tendon to the bicipital tuberosity may improve supination, endurance strength testing, and functional outcomes.


Surgical Therapy

Early surgical intervention for complete ruptures provides the best results. Two techniques are commonly used: the two-incision (modified Boyd-Anderson) technique and the one-incision technique.[4, 24, 25]

The two-incision technique, which Boyd and Anderson described in 1961, is the one more commonly employed; however, with the advent of suture anchors, the single-incision technique is becoming more popular. An advantage of the two-incision technique is potentially stronger fixation to the radial tuberosity. The most common complication is heterotopic bone, which can create a mechanical block to motion. As a result, this bone may have to be removed surgically. Another reported complication is injury to the posterior interosseous branch of the radial nerve.[26]

The one-incision technique has the obvious advantage of involving fewer incisions. Fixation usually is achieved with suture anchors, cortical buttons, or interference screws placed into the radial tuberosity. The most common complication with the current one-incision technique is lateral antebrachial nerve neurapraxia.

A clinical trial comparing the single- and double-incision techniques showed no significant difference in outcomes between the two types of surgery.[27]

Preparation for surgery

A thorough history, physical examination, and radiographic workup should be completed prior to surgery. Range of motion (ROM) and stability of the elbow should be assessed.

Procedural details

Examination with the patient under anesthesia is essential to surgery in any extremity. Surgery should be performed by using a tourniquet placed as high on the arm as possible. After standard sterile preparation and draping, the limb is exsanguinated and the tourniquet inflated.

Two-incision technique

With the two-incision technique, a small incision in the antecubital fossa (~3-4 cm) is made in the flexion crease. Dissection is taken through the fascia, and the biceps tendon is easily identified. Sometimes, a "milking" maneuver must be performed to deliver the tendon into the wound. Once the tendon is identified, it is prepared for fixation. The tendon invariably has bulbous degeneration at the rupture site. Once the bulbous degeneration is resected, two nonabsorbable braided 5-0 sutures are placed in a Bunnell or Krakow fashion to secure the tendon.

A curved Kocher or Kelly clamp is used to mark the second incision. The clamp is placed through the sheath of the biceps tendon and curved toward the radius with the forearm in supination. Great care is taken not to disturb the periosteum of the ulna to prevent synostosis. The clamp is used to tent the skin dorsally after it passes by the radial tuberosity. Once the clamp is past the tuberosity, the forearm is placed in pronation. Pronation of the forearm protects the radial nerve.

A 4- to 6-cm incision is made over the tip of the clamp. The dissection is taken down through the fascia of the common extensor and supinator and down to the radial tuberosity, which is cleared of overlying soft tissue. The tuberosity can be excavated with a high-speed burr. D'Arco et al described a better technique in 1998.[5] In their method, the radial tuberosity is prepared with multiple drill holes in an oval fashion and then excavated with small, curved curettes. This approach avoids creating the bone dust from the burr that may lead to synostosis.

After the tuberosity is prepared, three drill holes are made along the lateral margin of the tuberosity. The tendon is then delivered from the anterior wound to the tuberosity. This step can be expedited by placing a passing stitch when the curved clamp is removed from the biceps tendon sheath. The tendon is delivered into the tuberosity, and the sutures are tied, securing the tendon. Finally, the wound is closed in layers.

One-incision technique

Single-incision techniques through an anterior approach are becoming more popular. With the one-incision technique, a larger, anterior incision may be necessary to safely expose the bicipital tuberosity and avoid neurovascular injury.

Care is taken to avoid excessive retraction on the surrounding neurologic structures, specifically the posterior interosseous nerve (PIN) and the lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve. If a nerve palsy of the PIN develops, it is usually traction-related and resolves with time.[28] The distal biceps tendon can be secured to the bicipital tuberosity from the anterior incision with different types of fixation devices.

Three types of fixation devices have been successfully used to repair biceps tendon injuries with the one-incision technique, as follows:

Anchors are inserted into the radial tuberosity, and sutures from an eyelet on the anchor are passed into the biceps tendon. With cortical-button and interference-screw techniques, the tendon stump is delivered into a bone trough. The screw provides fixation with interference fit of the tendon and the surrounding bony socket, whereas the cortical button provides fixation over a bone bridge on the opposing cortical bone. When the cortical button is used, care must be taken to avoid drilling distal and radial to minimize risk of injury to the PIN.[31]

Lacertus fibrosus transfer

Caputo et al published a case series of 12 patients with distal biceps tendon injuries who were treated with an operative approach that used a transfer of the lacertus fibrosus to augment the tendon repair.[32] The authors concluded that in cases of distal biceps tendon injuries where operative management is indicated and the lacertus fibrosus intact, this approach can yield predictable outcomes without the complications associated with autograft or allograft tendon reconstruction.


Postoperative Care

Whether the two-incision or the one-incision technique is used, the elbow should be immobilized in 90° of flexion and slight supination for 7-10 days for the patient's comfort. Outpatient physical therapy begins with gentle ROM. A hinged ROM brace can help initially block the terminal 30° of flexion to protect the repair. This angle is gradually increased to full extension. Pronation and supination should be initiated early in therapy.



The most common complication from a two-incision approach is heterotopic bone formation. This complication can be minimized by avoiding use of a burr to excavate the radial tuberosity, decreasing the amount of bone dust created. In addition, by avoiding disruption of the ulnar periosteum, the risk of synostosis can be minimized.

The most common complication from a one-incision approach is nerve palsy.[33] Most of these palsies are transient in nature and completely resolve. They are best avoided by minimizing traction on the nerve.

Proponents of the one-incision technique argue that there is a lower risk of radioulnar synostosis and heterotopic ossification. Proponents of the two-incision technique argue that there is a lower risk of neurovascular injury and a more anatomic repair of the biceps to the radial tuberosity is possible.

Cadaveric studies have shown that a two-incision technique more adequately restores the original footprint more adequately than a one-incision technique does.[34] Postoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown that single-incision techniques can cause anterior tendon reattachment, which can be associated with a decrease in supination strength.[35]

There are complications specific to the more recent types of fixation. High rates of bone resorption have been observed with bioabsorbable screws made out of poly-L-Lactide (PLLA), though there was no correlation with clinical outcomes.[36] Transient PIN palsy, persistent radial nerve palsy, disengagement of the button, and heterotopic ossification have been reported with the use of cortical-button fixation.[37]


Long-Term Monitoring

Unrestricted motion can usually be achieved by 6-8 weeks after surgery. Full, unrestricted resistance activities should be delayed at least 4 months.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

John P Salvo, Jr, MD, MS Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Rothman Institute, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

John P Salvo, Jr, MD, MS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy Association of North America, Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society, International Society for Hip Arthroscopy, New Jersey Orthopaedic Society

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Smith & Nephew Endoscopy for speaking and teaching.


Elliot S Mendelsohn, MD Fellow in Orthopedic Sports Medicine, Rothman Institute of Orthopedics, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University

Elliot S Mendelsohn, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Thomas R Hunt III, MD Professor and Chairman, Joseph Barnhart Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine

Thomas R Hunt III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Orthopaedic Association, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Southern Orthopaedic Association, AO Foundation, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Association for Hand Surgery, American Society for Surgery of the Hand, Mid-America Orthopaedic Association

Disclosure: Received royalty from Tornier for independent contractor; Received ownership interest from Tornier for none; Received royalty from Lippincott for independent contractor.

Chief Editor

Harris Gellman, MD Consulting Surgeon, Broward Hand Center; Voluntary Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Plastic Surgery, Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Surgery, University of Miami, Leonard M Miller School of Medicine; Clinical Professor of Surgery, Nova Southeastern School of Medicine

Harris Gellman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, American Society for Surgery of the Hand, Arkansas Medical Society, Florida Medical Association, Florida Orthopaedic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Michael S Clarke, MD Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine

Michael S Clarke, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Arthroscopy Association of North America, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Hand Surgery, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Clinical Orthopaedic Society, Mid-Central States Orthopaedic Society, Missouri State Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Biceps muscle and tendons.
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