What Is the Fastest Way to Heal Bicep Tendonitis?

Reviewed on 6/3/2021
bicep tendonitis
The best way to heal bicep tendonitis involves a combination of rest, NSAIDs, ice application and physical therapy

Bicep tendonitis is an inflammatory condition of the upper biceps tendon, a tough band of tissue that connects the muscle to the shoulder bone.

Although wear and tear of the tendons is a normal part of aging, repetitive use can speed up the process and cause the biceps tendon to swell and weaken. The condition is most commonly seen in people who swim or play tennis or baseball.

9 ways to treat bicep tendonitis

The best way to heal bicep tendonitis involves a combination of various treatment methods:

1. Rest

Rest is vital to healing tendon injuries. Try to avoid lifting and reaching until your symptoms improve:

  • Lift objects by keeping your arm close to your body.
  • Do not lift light weights above your shoulder. Only lift below shoulder level.

2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

You can take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil and Motrin (Ibuprofen) or Aleve (Naproxen) for 5-7 days.

You can also use an NSAID in the form of a gel or patch applied to the skin to relieve pain.

3. Ice

Apply ice for 15-20 minutes several times a day (as needed) to reduce pain and swelling.

4. Physical therapy

If you don’t experience pain relief with rest, NSAIDs or ice, your doctor may recommend a course of physical therapy. This usually includes:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Massaging
  • Ultrasound treatments

Exercises help maintain flexibility, improve strength and promote mobility of muscles, tendons and joints.

5. Pendulum stretches

Apply a warm pack or stay in a warm shower for 5 minutes 1-2 a day and then perform the exercise a pendulum stretch:

  • Relax your shoulder muscles.
  • Keep your arm straight at your sides.
  • Swing your arm gently—forward to back, then side to side, then in small circles in each direction. Do not swing too far—swing less than one foot in any direction.
  • Gradually increase the diameter of your movements until you feel mild pain or discomfort. The diameter should not exceed 18-24 inches.

You can try doing pendulum stretch exercises for 5-10 minutes a day during the first few weeks of recovery. If your pain increases with exercise or you feel sharp pain, stop and contact your doctor.

6. Wall walks

  • Stand facing the wall with your shoulders and arms 2 feet apart from the wall.
  • Stretch out and touch your fingers against the wall.
  • Gently walk your fingers up the wall as high as you can. Stop when you feel pain and move your fingers down.
  • To increase the level of difficulty, gradually try to walk your fingers even higher. You should feel only mild pain and not sharp or tearing pain.

7. Steroid injections

Steroid injections are highly effective anti-inflammatory medications that are typically used when all the above treatments fail to relieve symptoms or when symptoms are severe. You may need to get a few sessions of steroid injections over the span of a few weeks until you have completely recovered. 

8. Non-surgical treatments

Your doctor may recommend other treatment modalities, although these lack enough research to confirm how effective they are: 

9. Surgery

If your bicep tendinitis is associated with a tendon rupture, you may need surgery. However, this is rare and surgery is only used as a last resort, if you:

  • Are young and want to recover quickly because you need to resume sports activities.
  • Still feel severe pain even after trying all other treatments.
  • Have developed a lump in your biceps and want to get it removed for cosmetic reasons.

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References
Bicipital Tendonitis. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/96521-overview

Patient education: Biceps tendinitis or tendinopathy (Beyond the Basics). https://www.uptodate.com/contents/biceps-tendinitis-or-tendinopathy-beyond-the-basics#

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