What is Biceps Tendinitis ?

Biceps tendinitis is a common cause of shoulder pain and impingement (compression of tissue with movement), often developing in people who perform repetitive, overhead movements. Biceps tendinitis develops over time, with pain located at the front of the shoulder, and usually worsens with continued aggravating activity.


When treating biceps tendinitis, physical therapists work to determine the exact source of the pain by assessing the entire shoulder, and typically prescribe a program of activity modification, stretching, and strengthening to resolve pain and return individuals to their desired activities.


Tendinitis is a condition in which inflammation accumulates at a tendon, causing pain. The biceps tendon, the tendon associated with the biceps muscle, is made up of 2 parts: the long head and the short head. The long head of the biceps is most commonly affected by tendinitis, as the tendon from the muscle runs up the length of the arm and attaches to the labrum (a rim of cartilage) and the shoulder blade in the shoulder joint.


Biceps tendinitis results when excessive, abnormal forces are applied across the tendon, including tension (a pulling of the muscle and tendon), compression (pushing or pinching), or shearing (rubbing). When the tendon is subjected to repetitive stresses, it can become irritated, swollen, and painful. 

There are many factors that may lead to biceps tendinitis, including:

  • Activities requiring repetitive overhead movement of the arms, such as placing dishes in a high cupboard or lifting boxes above the head.

  • Weakness in the rotator cuff and muscles of the upper back

  • Shoulder joint hypermobility (looseness)

  • Shoulder joint and/or muscle tightness

  • Poor body mechanics (how a person controls their body when moving)

  • An abrupt increase in an exercise routine

  • Age-related body changes

  • Other pathology within the shoulder joint


How Does it Feel?

If you are experiencing biceps tendinitis, you may feel:

  • Sharp pain in the front of your shoulder when you reach overhead, behind your back, or across your body

  • Tenderness to touch at the front of your shoulder

  • Pain that may radiate toward the neck or down the front of the arm

  • Dull, achy pain at the front of the shoulder, especially following activity

  • Weakness felt around the shoulder joint, usually experienced when lifting or carrying objects or reaching overhead

  • A sensation of "catching" or "clicking" in the front of the shoulder with movement

  • Pain when throwing a ball

  • Difficulty with daily activities, such as reaching behind your back to tuck in your shirt, or putting dishes away in an overhead cabinet

  • Pain when resting that may become worse at night