Bicipital Tendon Injuries
Bicipital tendon injuries of the elbow most commonly occur in the dominant extremity of men aged 40-60 years. Injuries range from tendonitis to partial tears to complete ruptures. A rupture usually occurs at the insertion of the tendon to the radial tuberosity, resulting in pain and deformity about the elbow, as well as weakness, especially with supination. Most surgeons agree that the best results are obtained with early surgical intervention and reattachment of the tendon to the radial tuberosity.
History of the Procedure
Boyd and Anderson first described a modified 2-incision approach for repair of a distal biceps tendon in 1961. The original approach involved subperiosteal dissection on the ulna. This led to an increased incidence of synostosis and heterotopic bone formation.
A modified approach with muscle-splitting rather than subperiosteal dissection decreases the incidence of synostosis and heterotopic bone formation. The biceps tendon is secured after the tuberosity is excavated. The tendon is fixed through 3 drill holes in the tuberosity.
The advent of suture anchors has increased the popularity of the single-incision approach. This approach has the theoretical advantage of a low risk of synostosis. The originally described anterior single-incision extensile approach was associated with radial nerve injury. Today’s limited anterior approach has been has been associated with neurapraxic injuries only.
The biceps brachii is the most powerful supinator of the forearm, and along with the brachialis, it provides elbow flexion. Rupture of the distal biceps tendon results in loss of supination power and deformity, as well as pain in the elbow. Without early surgical repair, chronic weakness and deformity persist. Pain typically resolves in time. Because this injury is most common in the dominant extremity of active middle-aged men, it may lead to significant impairment of their daily activities.
The overall frequency of bicipital tendon injuries is not truly known but has been reported to occur in 1.2 patients per 100,000 population. It has been reported with increasing frequency, but generally is considered to represent only 3% of biceps tendon injuries as a whole. This injury is more common in men and rarely reported in women.
Bicipital tendon injuries most commonly occur when an extension force is applied with the elbow in flexed position. This force overpowers the tendon and causes its rupture. It is believed that a degenerative process occurs in the tendon prior to the rupture. This process is evident clinically at the time of surgery with the finding of a bulbous, degenerated end of the tendon. Histologic studies have confirmed the degenerative process. Exactly how partial ruptures are related to this process is unknown. In addition, mechanical and vascular issues contribute.
Bicipital tendon ruptures most commonly occur in the dominant extremity in men aged 40-60 years, with an average patient age of about 50 years. They often have a history of acute pain in the antecubital fossa, and patients typically give a history of either lifting or holding something heavy with their elbow flexed immediately prior to the injury. Patients may or may not have a history of previous elbow pain. This pain, if present, may be related to tendon degeneration or a previous partial tear.
The acute pain is accompanied by deformity in the antecubital fossa due to tendon retraction. An obvious deformity indicates rupture of the tendon and the lacertus fibrosis. Some patients have swelling and/or ecchymosis in the antecubital fossa as well, typically over the medial proximal forearm. Initially, they may have weakness with flexion due to pain. This symptom may subside in a few days as the swelling decreases, but weakness with supination does not subside. If the tendon is completely ruptured but the lacertus fibrosis is intact, little deformity may be present.
On examination, tenderness may be noted in the antecubital fossa, as well as deformity due to the tendon retraction. If the lacertus fibrosis is not ruptured, the deformity is not as pronounced, but it can still be appreciated on comparison with the opposite extremity. The deformity is accentuated with resisted supination with the elbow in flexion.
Most surgeons agree that the vast majority of bicipital tendon ruptures benefit from early surgical repair. Indications for surgical intervention include a complete tendon rupture, with or without lacertus fibrosis rupture, in an otherwise healthy, cooperative, and active individual.
Acute ruptures are best treated early, within 8 weeks of the injury. Chronic injuries may require reconstruction or augmentation of the tendon and is a much more complicated procedure.
The biceps brachii travels in the anterior compartment of the arm and is innervated by the musculocutaneous nerve. It is the most powerful supinator of the forearm and also acts as a flexor of the elbow. It has 2 separate, proximal origins: the coracoid process and the bicipital tuberosity of the superior glenoid. Distally, a single tendon inserts on the radial tuberosity after passing through the antecubital fossa. The lacertus fibrosis, an aponeurotic expansion, originates at the musculotendinous junction medially and blends distally with the fascia of the superficial flexor mass and inserts on the proximal ulna.
The lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve travels between the brachialis and biceps brachii and exits the arm in the subcutaneous tissue laterally. It supplies sensation to the lateral aspect of the forearm.
The median nerve courses with the brachial artery and vein medial to the biceps tendon in the antecubital fossa. The artery bifurcates into the radial and ulnar arteries at the level of the radial head. A recurrent branch from the radial artery travels lateral and proximal across the antecubital fossa.
The radial nerve travels laterally between the brachialis and brachioradialis to enter the antecubital fossa. The superficial branch travels deep to the brachioradialis in the forearm. The deep branch enters the supinator muscle lateral to the radius and becomes the posterior interosseous nerve.
Surgical repair of a bicipital tendon rupture has few contraindications. Contraindications include the presence of little functional impairment from the injury, medical contraindications to a surgical procedure, and a sedentary or uncooperative patient.
A relative contraindication is chronic disruption. Because of tendon retraction and muscle contraction, it is difficult or impossible to anatomically reattach the tendon to the radial tuberosity. In these situations, delayed reconstruction using autograft or allograft tissue is required and the outcome is less dependable.