Symptoms A-Z

Bicep Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your bicep pain symptoms with Buoy, including 4 causes and common questions concerning your bicep pain.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 4 Possible Bicep Pain Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Bicep Pain Symptoms

Pain located between your shoulder and elbow can be labeled as bicep pain. The discomfort can sometimes radiate into your back and make it difficult to bend your elbow or flex those sweet muscles that you've been working on.

While it's typically not a major cause for concern, bicep pain can be annoying and limiting to say the least.

Common characteristics and accompanying symptoms of bicep pain are

Signs of bicep pain include:

The bicep is a muscle located on the front portion of the upper arm. It's technically made up of two muscles, called the short head and the long head, but they work in tandem as one muscle.

Like most muscles, the bicep is attached to your bones with tendons. The bicep is one of the busiest muscles in the body, helping you complete a wide range of tasks throughout the day. If any of the included muscles or tendons are damaged, bicep pain is sure to make an appearance.

Bicep Pain Causes

Bicep pain is usually caused by an injury related to working out or sports. But there are other causes to consider. Use the following guide to help you pinpoint the general cause of your bicep pain.

Traumatic causes of bicep pain

The bicep muscles can tear from a shoulder or elbow injury [1,2]. Sports-related injuries are common, especially if an athlete has to repeat a specific motion over and over, like a quarterback in football. Pushing the muscle too far during a strength training workout can also lead to bicep pain.

You don't need to be athletic to damage your bicep. Lifting a heavy box of books can traumatize the area or an awkward fall can tear a tendon. An injury can happen in a flash so always take precaution during difficult physical activities.

Medical causes of bicep pain

Joint pain can occasionally translate to bicep pain. For those with heart conditions, pain in the bicep can signal medical concern [3]. Those with anxiety disorders can also experience bicep pain if they clench their muscles to deal with the stress [4].

Other causes

Steroid use falls under other causes of bicep pain. If needles are infected or shared, the bicep muscle itself can become infected. This is rare but possible.

Bicep pain can affect both men and women and people of all levels of fitness. The pain can slowly build with time or come on suddenly. If you have an idea of the cause of your discomfort, it's time to start looking into treatments.

4 Possible Bicep Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced bicep pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue)

The brachial plexus is a web of nerves between the neck and shoulder, connecting the spinal cord nerves to the arm. There is one web on each side of the neck. Any injury that forces the shoulder to stretch down, and the neck to stretch up and away, can damage these nerves and cause brachial plexopathy.

Sports injuries and car accidents are often involved. Inflammation, tumors, and radiation treatment can also damage the brachial plexus.

Milder symptoms include numbness and weakness in the arm, with a shocklike stinging or burning sensation. A more severe injury can cause paralysis and loss of feeling in the arm, with pain in some parts of the arm, hand, and shoulder.

These symptoms should be seen by a medical provider since permanent damage can result if the injuries are not treated.

Diagnosis is made through electromyography (EMG) testing, CT scan, MRI, and sometimes angiogram.

Treatment usually involves rest and physical therapy. Surgery may be necessary to remove scar tissue or repair the damaged nerves.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain

Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue): pain in the front middle part of the neck

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bicep bruise

A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the bicep are common due to minor injuries.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constant upper arm pain, recent bicep injury, pain in one bicep, swelling of one arm, upper arm bruise

Symptoms that always occur with bicep bruise: recent bicep injury, constant upper arm pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Bicep Pain Symptom Checker

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Upper arm bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Osteomyelitis of the upper arm is a bacterial or fungal infection of the bone, typically caused by Staph Aureus (40-50% of the time). It is difficult to diagnose as the infection can come from a break in the skin at the area or anywhere else in the body that spreads by blood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: moderate fever, constant upper arm pain, spontaneous upper arm pain, warm red upper arm swelling, painful surgical site

Symptoms that always occur with upper arm bone infection (osteomyelitis): constant upper arm pain, spontaneous upper arm pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Repetitive strain injury of the upper arm

Repetitive strain injury of the upper arm is caused by consistent repetitive use.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: upper arm pain from overuse, upper arm weakness, upper arm numbness

Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm: upper arm pain from overuse

Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm: upper arm injury, severe upper arm pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Bicep Pain Treatments and Relief

Bicep pain can slow you down, but the discomfort can be managed with the following treatments. Make sure to review our preventative tips if bicep pain is a common occurrence for you.

At-home treatment

The following treatment options can likely provide some relief and can be tried at home.

  • Ice packs: Use cold packs or ice to reduce any swelling. Only leave ice on the area for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Medications: NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), can help minimize discomfort. Just take care to not overwork the muscle, even if it's feeling better, when taking pain medication.
  • Rest: One of the best ways to alleviate bicep pain is resting the affected arm as much as possible. Take care to not compress the bicep or shoulder though.

When to see a doctor

Bicep pain usually goes away with rest and time. But some cases can be persistent and even dangerous. Here are some signs that it's time to schedule an appointment with your doctor regarding bicep pain.

  • Pain that doesn't improve over several weeks
  • Obvious deformity in the shape of the bicep area
  • Open or infected wounds
  • Experiencing other signs of heart distress: Such as dizziness or shortness of breath

When it is an emergency

In addition to what is detailed above, you should seek immediate treatment for:

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath: Especially if accompanied by arm or bicep pain, nausea and vomiting, and sweating
  • You cannot move your arm at all
  • Your pain becomes severe or debilitating
  • You have a fever or signs of infection

Prevention

Bicep pain may be largely preventable if you keep the following in mind.

  • Take things slow when doing physical activities: If completing strength training, only move up in weight when you are truly ready.
  • Practice proper posture when performing exercises or playing sports: Proper form will not only help you perform better but can also reduce your chances of injury.
  • Try avoiding or at least changing any physical activity that may trigger bicep pain

FAQs About Bicep Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about bicep pain.

What does it feel like to tear your bicep?

The biceps actually consist of two muscle groups. If you tear the long head of the biceps, you may experience shoulder pain, and if you are lifting a weight your arm may "give out" and drop whatever load it is carrying. If you tear the short head of the biceps, you may experience acute elbow pain followed by weakness. This would typically occur after a relatively forceful biceps contraction. A muscle after a biceps tear may look swollen, classically referred to as a "Popeye" deformity named after the cartoon character whose biceps bulged after eating spinach [1].

Why do I have sudden bicep pain for no reason?

Sudden biceps pain may be caused by injury to the tendon, underlying bone, or a tear of muscle fibers. Sudden sharp pain is abnormal while weightlifting and should be evaluated. Often this bicep pain coincides with motion and is caused by an injury to or straining of the tendon. Individuals that tear a bicep tendon will also report hearing a pop in conjunction with tearing a tendon [5]. Unprovoked bicep pain is uncommon and can be caused by sporadic but rare cramps.

What are the symptoms of bicep tendonitis?

Classically, people with biceps tendonitis will experience pain in the front of the shoulder and the pain will worsen at night. The pain may increase with physical activities such as pulling, repetitive overhead reaching, and lifting. Usually, tendinopathy is chronic and symptoms develop slowly overtime. If it becomes worse, it may cause a tendon rupture, in which the tendon is torn and the ability of the muscle to lift its attached structure is completely lost.

How long does it take to recover from a bicep strain?

Biceps strain occur commonly during exercise and usually only takes a few days to recover. Chronic tendinopathy may take four to eight weeks to recover, depending on how thoroughly one refrains from rest. Biceps tendonitis and muscle rupture may also be severe and have a significant threat of functional limitation if untreated. Biceps muscle tears may require surgery, and emergent medical evaluation is necessary for individuals requiring a high degree of biceps function (professional weightlifters, construction workers, etc.)

How long does it take to for a torn bicep to heal?

After suffering a biceps tear, common treatment includes ice, compression, and muscle rest. Usually a few weeks time is sufficient to return to function unless surgery is indicated. If you undergo surgery, recovery is dictated by your surgeon, but is often one to five weeks long. Each individual and surgery is different, however, and the degree of the tear and mechanism of the surgery will dictate the time to a full recovery.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Bicep Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Did you recently experience an injury to the upper arm area?
  • Do you have any idea what may have caused your upper arm pain?
  • Does your pain continue into the night?
  • Have any of your muscles gotten much smaller (wasted away)?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your bicep pain

Bicep Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced bicep pain have also experienced:

  • 22% Pain In One Shoulder
  • 8% Shoulder Pain
  • 2% Pain In The Back Of The Neck

People who have experienced bicep pain were most often matched with:

  • 60% Upper Arm Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)
  • 30% Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)
  • 10% Bicep Bruise

People who have experienced bicep pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 37% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a week
  • 20% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Bicep Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your bicep pain

References

  1. Biceps Tendinitis. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Reviewed Feb. 2016. OrthoInfo Link
  2. Biundo JJ. Tendinitis and Tenosynovitis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated April 2018. Merck Manuals Consumer Version Link
  3. Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms. American Heart Association. AHA Link
  4. Chronic Pain. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Updated April 2016. ADAA Link
  5. Churgay CA. Diagnosis and Treatment of Biceps Tendinitis and Tendinosis. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Sep 1;80(5):470-476. AAFP Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.