Arthroscopic Release of the Long Head of the Biceps Tendon

Authors: Anne M. Kelly, MD, Mark C. Drakos, MD*, Stephen Fealy, MD, Samuel A. Taylor and Stephen J. O’Brien, MD

References: Am J Sports Med 33:208-213 (2005)

Background: Treatment of chronic, refractory biceps tendinitis remains controversial. The authors sought to evaluate clinical and functional outcomes of arthroscopic release of the long head of the biceps tendon.

Hypothesis: In specific cases of refractory biceps tendinitis, site-specific release of the long head of the biceps tendon may yield relief of pain and symptoms.

Study Design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: Fifty-four patients diagnosed with biceps tendinitis underwent arthroscopic release of the long head of the biceps tendon as an isolated procedure or as part of a concomitant shoulder procedure over a 2-year period. Patients were not excluded for concomitant shoulder abnormality, including degenerative joint disease, rotator cuff tears, Bankart lesions, or instability. Nine of 40 patients had an isolated arthroscopic release of the biceps tendon. At a minimum of 2 years, the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the L’Insalata shoulder questionnaires as well as ipsilateral and contralateral metrics were used for evaluation.

Results: The L’Insalata; University of California, Los Angeles; and American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons scores were 77.6, 27.6, and 75.6, respectively. Seventy percent had a Popeye sign at rest or during active elbow flexion; 82.7% of men and 36.5% of women had a positive Popeye sign (P < .05); 68% were rated as good, very good, or excellent. No patient reported arm pain at rest distally or proximally; 38% of patients complained of fatigue discomfort (soreness) isolated to the biceps muscle after resisted elbow flexion.

Conclusion: Arthroscopic release of the long head of the biceps tendon is an appropriate and reliable intervention for patients with chronic, refractory biceps tendinitis. Cosmetic deformity presenting as a positive Popeye sign and fatigue discomfort were the primary complaints.

Clinical Relevance: Although tenotomy is not the ideal intervention for patients of all ages with various shoulder abnormalities, data suggest that it may be an acceptable surgical intervention for a specifically selected cohort of individuals.


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