Muscle of the Month: Biceps brachii
Though not one of the major muscle groups of the upper body, the bicep still plays a role in elbow and shoulder movements. The bicep helps with lifting and pulling, which are essential motions for all of us.
Actions: Flexes elbow. Supinates forearm (the action of turning your palm upwards). Flexes shoulder.
Common pain culprit: Repetitive overhead activities such as swimming or tennis. Frequently seen in careers such as painting, mechanics, electricians.
One of the bicep tendons attaches to the front of the shoulder, which makes it prone to become irritated by overhead activities. Over time, the tendon wears down from constant compression or rubbing against other structures, resulting in tendonitis (the inflammation of the tendon). Bicep tendonitis is common and is usually seen with rotatorcuff tears (or can be mistaken for such). A pain in the front of the shoulder, that increases with overhead activities, and is painful with direct touch to the tendon are clear signs of bicep tendonitis.
The fix: Rest, ice and physical therapy.
Initially, tendonitis is treated with resting the affected area (avoid overhead movements) and ice. This helps decrease the acute pain of inflammation.
The next step is to get in with a RMT or PT for physical therapy. They will develop a treatment plan that includes a stretching and strengthening procedure, along with hands-on therapy to improve symptoms.
Should the tendonitis progress without proper care, it may result in a tear. Tears can lead to decrease in motion and worse pain. Significant tears can lead to muscle rupture. Surgery is generally needed in these circumstances.
With that said, overuse injuries are often preventable if the source of pain is identified sooner rather than later. If you’re starting a new strength training program, it is wise to progress slowly and steadily – progress can be achieved at a rate of 10% or less per week, and this pace will be beneficial to you in the long run as you will be less likely to hit a plateau.
The best thing you can do is work within your limits, and listen to your body; the insight we obtain from listening to our aches and pains is quite profound, as we can then understand how to recover, allowing us to move freely again.