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Causes of Triceps Tears

Assess your risk factor for a triceps tear, the precise causes of triceps tears, and various treatments.

Triceps tears commonly appear in competitive weightlifting. [©Jupiter Images 2009]
©Jupiter Images 2009
Triceps tears commonly appear in competitive weightlifting.

Causes of triceps tears are most often related to a fall on an outstretched arm. The triceps muscle, or the triceps brachii, is the main muscle that allows the elbow to open, while the biceps muscle, or the biceps brachii, allows the elbow to bend. Triceps tendon injuries are rare, often causing proper diagnoses of tears or ruptures to be delayed several months. A complete tear requires surgery to repair the damage; however, a partial tear may not.

Factors That Contribute to a Triceps Tear

According to the June 2008 article published in Orthopedics, triceps tears (commonly known as triceps tendon ruptures) are most often seen in men between the ages of 30 and 50 years old who engage in football and competitive weightlifting. Other sports that involve overuse of the elbow, such as boxing and gymnastics, may cause very minor tears in the triceps tendon.

Triceps tendon ruptures may be increased with the use of some medications, including corticosteroids, ciprofloxacin and anabolic steroids, which may be related to the number of injuries reported in professional football and competitive weightlifting. Certain medical conditions that may cause individuals to be predisposed to triceps tendon ruptures include renal failure, hyperparathyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus.

Symptoms of a Triceps Tear

If an individual suspects a triceps injury, an appointment with a doctor should be made to determine the severity of the injury. Symptoms that indicate a triceps tendon rupture include:

• A limited range of motion of the elbow
• Pain in the upper arm
• Swelling in the area of the triceps
• A noticeable weakness or lack of strength in the upper arm

Swelling and pain, which are common in acute injuries, are main reasons for many misdiagnoses of triceps tears. Because primary surgery to repair the torn tendons should take place within three weeks of the triceps tendon injury, it is important that a follow-up appointment be made within that three-week period to reassess the damage. This allows the pain and swelling to go down, and the doctor can more clearly determine the damage to the triceps tendon.

Healing From Triceps Tear Surgery

When the injury is recurrent or the tendon has shortened, patients may require reconstruction using a graft from the hamstring to reconnect the tendon to the bone. Strengthening the triceps tendon after surgery is a gradual rehabilitation process, usually with a longer recovery time if a graft is used. Doctors generally recommend immobilizing the triceps for a period of time after surgery, then allowing slow, gradual movement of the arm to prevent another rupture or stiffness in the elbow.

Patients generally report satisfaction with surgery results and are able to go back to work or resume previous activities, even if the surgery is delayed beyond three weeks. Some lingering weakness is likely to occur when a tendon graft is needed.

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