A pulled biceps muscle can be pretty painful and quite an inconvenience, since it's an important upper-body muscle and you need it for a lot of day-to-day tasks. Here's what you need to know about the causes of this injury, as well as some measures and exercises that can help it heal.
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Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy exercises can help heal a pulled biceps; however, you should also seek medical attention for your injury.
Causes of Biceps Strain
The Cleveland Clinic explains that the biceps muscle connects at two points in your arm: your elbow and your shoulder. At your elbow, tendons attach the biceps muscle to your lower arm and at your shoulder, tendons attach it to your shoulder joint.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, biceps injuries are most common at the point where the muscle connects with the shoulder. You can also injure the biceps tendons at your elbow. However, a November 2017 study published in the Open Orthopaedics Journal notes that the chances of that happening are very slim.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that your pulled biceps can be caused by lifting something too heavy or falling hard on your outstretched arm. You can also injure your biceps by overusing it; the tendons fray and get worn out over time, and repetitive motions can accelerate this process.
An August 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research found that repeated overhead motions or throwing motions are especially likely to result in biceps injuries. Swimming, tennis, basketball and lifting children are some of the activities that could result in a pulled biceps.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that since biceps injuries usually develop gradually over a period of time, they can be hard to prevent. However, try to pay attention to your body and avoid activities that cause pain beyond short-term muscle soreness.
Healing a Pulled Biceps Muscle
You should visit a doctor to determine the extent of your injury and get treated. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, you probably won't require surgery unless you've damaged a more critical structure, like your rotator cuff.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists a few measures you can take to heal your injury:
- Apply ice: Ice your injury several times a day for 20 minutes at a time to help bring down the swelling. Avoid applying the ice directly to your skin.
- Take anti-inflammatory medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, can help with the pain and the swelling.
- Rest your arm: Avoid lifting anything heavy or raising your arm overhead. Your doctor may also prescribe a sling for some time.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding biceps compression wraps; wrapping your shoulder can be difficult and if you wrap your elbow wrong, it could cause swelling in your hand.
Tufts Medical Center also lists some physical therapy exercises you can do with your injured arm to help heal your biceps. Consult your doctor about which exercises are best for you and how to do them safely and correctly. You can do these exercises right away, but if any particular exercise causes you pain, stop doing it immediately.
Move 1: Elbow Flexion and Extension
- Bring your palm as close to your shoulder as you can.
- Next, straighten your arm as much as you can.
- Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
Move 2: Biceps Stretch
- Stand facing a wall, keeping around 6 inches between yourself and the wall.
- Lift your injured arm on your side and place your thumb against the wall, with your palm facing downward.
- Keeping your arm straight, twist your body in the opposite direction of your raised arm, until you feel the stretch in your arm.
- Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and then repeat two more times.
Move 3: Biceps Curl
- In a standing position, hold a soup can, hammer or 5- to 8-pound weight in your injured hand.
- Bring your palm toward your shoulder, bending your elbow.
- Hold this position for five seconds; then straighten your arm.
- Do two sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Move 4: Side-Lying External Rotation
- Lie down on the side that isn't injured and place your injured arm at your side, with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keeping your elbow against your side, lift your forearm toward the ceiling and hold it there for a couple of seconds.
- Lower your arm slowly.
- Do two sets of 15 repetitions. As long as there is no pain, you can start doing this exercise with a light weight or a soup can and then gradually increase the weight.
Move 5: Sleeper Stretch
- Lie down on your injured side with your shoulder blades lightly squeezed together, your knees and hips bent and your injured arm straight out in front of you.
- Bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle so that your fingers are pointing toward the ceiling.
- Gently push your arm down toward the floor, using your other hand.
- Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat two more times.
- Cleveland Clinic: “Three Tips for Treating Your Bicep Pain at Home”
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Biceps Tendon Tear at the Shoulder”
- Journal of Clinical Medicine Research: “Actions of the Biceps Brachii at the Shoulder: A Review”
- Open Orthopaedics Journal: “Distal Biceps and Triceps Injuries”
- Tufts Medical Center: “Biceps Tendon Injury Exercises”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.