What Causes Bicep Pain When Lifting Weights?

For many avid lifters, the bicep muscles are both a point of pride and an essential tool. These muscles are used in most arm lifts, and because of this, they endure daily stress in a variety of ways.

Biceps pain can be a result of microtearing. (Image: Jun/iStock/GettyImages)

But if you experience bicep pain when extending your arm, it could be cause for alarm. It is important with muscles like this to be cautious and keep your risk of worsening an injury low in order to retain use of the muscle. The first step in treatment is identifying the likely cause of your pain.

Tip

Biceps pain can be a result of microtearing — a normal response to weight lifting. Less often, it can be a sign of a serious injury.

Identify the Cause

It is important to focus on what type of pains you are experiencing in order to make a good assessment of the source and severity of your pain. If you are experiencing dull, burning pains that you have felt leading in to the workout, this suggests a much different — and less problematic — type of pain than sharp, sudden pains that occur in response to lifting.

Pain in Middle of Biceps

When muscle pain is dull and burning, you probably don't have much to worry about — the most likely cause is simple muscle soreness, which can occur after an intense workout that focuses on your biceps. Although it was long thought to be caused by lactic acid buildup, muscle soreness, or in this case, pain in the middle of your biceps, is actually caused by microscopic tears and strains in your muscle fibers.

You might not feel soreness or distal biceps tendon pain right away. It often develops 24 to 72 hours after exercise due to a condition called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. This condition is caused by eccentric exercise, such as the lowering phase of a biceps curl, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. These injuries are insignificant, but they can take several days to heal and leave you uncomfortable in the meantime.

Strains and Tears

Sharp, sudden pains in the bicep muscle may suggest a strain or even partial biceps tear. A muscle strain would most likely produce pain in the middle of your biceps muscle. This can sometimes be easy to identify — swelling and inflammation is common, and even a partially torn bicep will be unable to perform at the same levels as it normally would. You will likely also experience biceps pain when extending your arm.

If you have suffered a strain or possible muscle tear, it is important to meet with a trainer or doctor to have the injury looked at. Muscle strains or partial biceps tears could lead to scar tissue development during the healing process.

Proceed With Caution

If you are only suffering from soreness in your muscles, it is safe in many cases to continue with your workout as normal. If the soreness is severe, it may be in your best interest to take the day off or perform a lighter workout regimen, as the pain is indicative of a large number of muscle fibers that are injured.

Mild muscle strains can often be treated at home, according to Mayo Clinic. Apply ice for every few hours for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and avoid activities that aggravate your pain for a few days until your symptoms improve.

Sharp and sudden pains, on the other hand, suggest more severe muscular or even structural damage in the bicep — particularly if you have distal biceps tendon pain in your upper forearm. See a doctor if you suspect a tear. According to an article published in February 2018 by Arthroscopy Techniques, these injuries often require surgical intervention, particularly if you are an active person.

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