Torn Triceps Tendon – A Rare But Serious Injury

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Torn Triceps Tendon – A Rare But Serious Injury 2017-12-10T17:04:54+00:00

Torn Triceps Tendon – A Rare But Serious Injury

By Asheesh Bedi, MD

A torn tricpes tendon is a potentially career-threatening injury which requires prompt surgical repair and significant rehabilitation to provide an athlete a viable chance at return to play.  Unfortunately, for Ray Lewis he is not alone, as triceps tendon injuries have had a serious impact on many athlete’s careers.

The triceps is the powerful muscle on the back of the upper arm that is responsible for straightening the elbow. It attaches to the shoulder blade on one end and to the elbow on the other. It is an important muscle in both everyday activities as well as in athletics.

What is a torn triceps tendon?

A torn triceps tendon specifically refers to the tearing of the tendon that attaches the powerful triceps muscle along the back of the arm to the tip of the elbow. Triceps ruptures commonly occur with falls onto an outstretched hand or during a block in football, when a sudden force causes the elbow to bend while the triceps muscle is simultaneously contracting and trying to straighten the elbow. The athlete’s body weight is resisted by the triceps contraction, however the force may be too much and the tendon ruptures.

Torn triceps tendon symptoms

While a torn triceps tendon is relatively uncommon, they are devastating injuries for athletes when they are missed and go untreated. For this reason, the doctor and athletic trainer must maintain a high index of suspicion. An injured athlete will describe a mechanism of injury where the elbow was forcibly bent while he or she was trying to extend it. There will be tenderness to the touch and swelling where the tendon attaches to the back of the elbow. There will also be weakness when the elbow is extended against resistance.

An ultrasound or MRI can be very useful to confirm the diagnosis and specifically identify the location of the tear and degree of retraction of the tendon.


Treatment of torn triceps tendon

Complete ruptures of the triceps tendon typically require surgery in athletes who wish to return to play at the prior level of competition. An incision is necessary on the back of the elbow to reattach the tendon directly to bone. If this injury is missed or neglected, the athlete will have significant weakness with elbow extension and may not be able to maintain a block in football or rugby, lift weights, or perform push-ups. 

When to See the Doctor

Hundreds of athletes sustain acute injuries everyday, which can be treated safely at home using the P.R.I.C.E. principle. But if there are signs or symptoms of a serious injury, emergency first aid should be provided while keeping the athlete calm and still until emergency service personnel arrive. Signs of an emergency situation when you should seek care and doctor treatment can include:

  • Bone or joint that is clearly deformed or broken
  • Severe swelling and/or pain,
  • Unsteady breathing or pulse
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Paralysis, tingling, or numbness

In addition, an athlete should seek medical care if acute symptoms do not go away after rest and home treatment using the P.R.I.C.E principle.

Can Telemedicine Help?

Telemedicine is gaining popularity because it can help bring you and the doctor together quicker and more efficiently. It is particularly well suited for sports medicine, facilitating the diagnoses, treatment and prevention of sports related injuries both on and off the field. There are times when It can be very difficult to get an appointment with primary care doctors or specialists and Telemedicine can help to provide very quick treatment options. But if you prefer a more personal or face-to-face relationship, telemedicine might not be the option for you.

Though no service is perfect, telemedicine is a positive and growing medical treatment option. Studies continue to show that telemedicine saves time and money and seeing your primary care doctor after a telemedicine visit can always be set up to establish a second opinion.


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  • hava

    how many triceps tendons are in one hand?

  • John

    About 4 months ago I injured my triceps tendon lifting weights. At first they thought it was bursitis, I had a golf ball size protrusion on my elbow. The surgeon drained it, and gave a shot of cortisone. Later a X-ray revealed a bone spur and they had to drain it a second time after it came back and another shot of cortisone. As more time passed I was still having significant pain, even when not lifting weights. And when I did lift the pain was agonizing. Last week they did a MRI and it revealed a partial tendon tear. Now I do not know what to do. The surgeon want to wait see if it will recover more. But I do not know if I can take the pain. My job requires me to be able to do physical work. But he says because the tear was long ago the surgery would be more difficult. I do not know what to do…..

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