Distal biceps tendon injuries—current treatment options

Tony Quach, Reza Jazayeri, Orrin H Sherman, Jeffrey E Rosen
Bulletin of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases 2010, 68 (2): 103-11
Three percent of all biceps tendon ruptures occur at the distal aspect, where the tendon inserts into the radial tuberosity. Distal bicep tendon ruptures typically occur in middle-aged males after an eccentric extension load is applied to the elbow. Patients usually complain of a sudden, sharp, and painful tearing sensation in the antecubital region, with a palpable defect. The biceps squeeze and hook tests are specific maneuvers by which to diagnose distal biceps ruptures on physical examination. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound maybe be helpful to distinguish between partial and complete tears. Anatomic studies suggest there are two distinct insertions for the short and long heads of the distal biceps. The short head may be a more powerful flexor, and the long head may be a more powerful supinator. Nonoperative treatment typically results in loss of flexion and supination strength and endurance. Early anatomic re-attachment is the goal. Surgical approaches include one- or two-incision techniques, and tendon fixation methods include the use of suture anchors, bone tunnels, an endobutton, or biotenodesis screws. Biomechanical studies have shown that endobuttons have higher load-to-failure strengths, compared to the other fixation methods. However, clinical studies have demonstrated that patients do well regardless of surgical approach or fixation method. Possible complications include nerve injuries, heterotopic ossification, postoperative fracture, tendon rerupture, complex regional pain syndrome, and wound infection. Partial ruptures are significantly less common and initially can be treated conservatively. Chronic tears are more difficult to treat because of possible tendon retraction and poor tissue quality. Tendon grafts using semitendinosus, fascia lata, hamstring, Achilles (calcaneal), or flexor carpi radialis have been successfully used for length restoration in these cases.

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