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Biceps Rupture Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Gary L Branch, DO; Chief Editor: Milton J Klein, DO, MBA  more...
Updated: May 13, 2016


Patients with biceps rupture may report a wide variety of symptoms, including the following:

  • Some patients report a sudden pain in the anterior shoulder during activity. This acute pain, frequently described as sharp in nature, may be accompanied by an audible pop or a perceived snapping sensation.
  • Other persons may report experiencing recurrent pain while performing overhead or repetitive activities.
  • Still others experience a nondescript anterior shoulder soreness that may worsen at night.
  • Patients also may be asymptomatic and note only a visible or palpable mass between the shoulder and elbow. Pain actually may diminish when complete rupture occurs following chronic impingement and irritation. Distal ruptures may present in a similar fashion, but in most of these cases, symptoms or noticeable masses are located closer to the elbow.


When biceps rupture is suggested on the basis of history or mechanism of injury, physical examination should include specific testing of all types of shoulder and elbow pathology within the large list of possible diagnoses. Because biceps rupture is often the final event in a cascade of impingement and inflammation, testing for impingement syndromes and bicipital tendinitis always is warranted. A thorough examination should include evaluation for several possible signs.

  • Perform an examination to identify any palpable tenderness along the course of the biceps tendons and muscle belly, including the bicipital groove with the arm in 5-10 º of internal rotation.
  • Perform range-of-motion (ROM) testing of the shoulder and elbow.
  • Perform complete strength testing of upper limb muscles, especially the biceps.
  • Inspect the shoulder and arm contour and compare with the contralateral side:
    • Pay special attention to the region of the bicipital groove, which may show indentation or hollowing when the tendon is absent following a rupture.
    • The Ludington test (or position), in which the hands are clasped behind the head and the biceps muscles are flexed, often is used for this purpose.
  • Other maneuvers, such as the Speed test and Yergason sign, are used, along with signs of biceps dislocation or instability, to identify patients who may have partial tears or who may be predisposed to future rupture.


See the list below:

  • A proximal biceps rupture generally is caused by insidious inflammation from impingement in the subacromial region and may be the eventual result of chronic microtrauma in this manner. Repeated insults often lead to fraying of the tendon, with resultant weakness predisposing it to rupture following relatively minor injuries.
  • A tendon rupture due to chronic inflammation can occur in rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Excessive loading or rapid stress upon the tendon, such as in weightlifting, often causes an acute tendon rupture.
  • Biceps tendon rupture or degeneration frequently is associated with rotator cuff trauma in the geriatric population and is often observed at the time of surgery for complete rotator cuff tears. This may be related to impingement phenomenon.[8, 9, 10]
  • Most ruptures occur at the tendinous insertion to the bony anchor, proximally and distally:[11, 12]
    • Distal avulsions from the radius commonly are caused by chronic irritation on an irregular surface, such as in persistent cubital bursitis.
    • Acute avulsions are the result of forceful extension of the elbow from a flexed and supinated position.
    • Rare short-head rupture may occur with rapid flexion and adduction of the arm during elbow extension activities.
  • Impairment of physiologic repair mechanisms by medications (statins) has also been proposed as a potential factor predisposing the tendon to rupture.[13]
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Gary L Branch, DO Staff Physician, Memorial Healthcare Center and Mid-Michigan Orthopedics

Gary L Branch, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American Osteopathic College of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


J Michael Wieting, DO, MEd, FAOCPMR, FAAPMR Senior Associate Dean, Associate Dean of Clinical Medicine, Consultant in Sports Medicine, Assistant Vice President of Program Development, Division of Health Sciences, DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine; Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Professor of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine

J Michael Wieting, DO, MEd, FAOCPMR, FAAPMR is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists, American Osteopathic Academy of 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.

Aishwarya Patil, MD Physiatrist (Rehabilitation Physician), Vice Chair, Immanuel Rehabilitation Center

Aishwarya Patil, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Association of Academic Physiatrists, Association of Physicians of India

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Milton J Klein, DO, MBA Consulting Physiatrist, Heritage Valley Health System-Sewickley Hospital and Ohio Valley General Hospital

Milton J Klein, DO, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Disability Evaluating Physicians, American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, American Academy of Osteopathy, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association, American Osteopathic College of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Pain Society, Pennsylvania Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Biceps muscle and tendons
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