Bicep Pain

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Muscular shirtless man holding his bicep in apparent pain

Bicep pain is a condition experienced by many people who are avid exercisers or athletes. It nevertheless can also be a result of factors not related to these activities.

In this article, we shall set out a few of the most common reasons for a painful bicep. We also outline the main treatment approaches for each cause of this pain.

We should emphasize that the reasons listed below are not exhaustive. There are other potential reasons why you may feel pain in the bicep.

If you are not sure of the reason in your particular case, we strongly suggest getting medical advice. This is particularly the case if the pain does not recede after a period of rest for the muscle. A physician will be able to diagnose the cause of this chronic pain and make treatment recommendations.

What is The Bicep?

The bicep is located in the front of the upper arm and plays a significant role in many daily functions. Technically speaking, it is a pair of muscles that work together as one unit.

The bicep attaches to the shoulder via a tendon, called the bicep tendon.

Sports Related Causes Of Bicep Pain

Torn Or Overstretched Bicep Muscle

A strained bicep is probably the main cause of bicep pain when it arises due to sports or exercise activity. Frequently, the muscle strain can be an overuse injury caused by having to repeat the same action time and again. Examples would include throwing a baseball or football. Strength training too frequently or for excessive periods can also cause bicep strains.

If you have strained your bicep, you may have heard a pop or snap when the injury occurred. Along with the pain, the bicep may also feel tender for a few days after the injury.

If the injury is severe (a partially or completely torn muscle), you may also experience swelling and bruising. There may also be lost range of motion at the elbow. Muscle spasms may also be a factor.

Bruised Bicep

Bicep pain can also be a result of a contusion of the bicep muscle. If you receive a direct blow to the muscle, it may damage the blood vessels. That damage may in turn allow blood to leak out of the vessel. That blood may then be trapped in the muscle itself.

Symptoms of a bruised bicep (in addition to bicep pain) include blue or purple discoloration of the area. You may also experience swelling.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

This condition can also cause bicep pain, usually a few hours or a day after exercise.


To treat a mild or moderate strain, a temporary break from activity that may stress the bicep is typically the main treatment step.

She may also recommend that you apply ice to the painful area for 20 minutes at a time. It will constrict the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the area, thus relieving pain and reducing swelling.

Compressing the bicep with an arm compression sleeve or tensor bandage may also help. If the pain is severe and not controlled by icing, you may be prescribed a pain killing medication like Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Alternatively, she may recommend a nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drug like Ibuprofen (Advil).

Bicep bruises are also commonly treated by self care at home. Resting the muscle and frequent application of ice or a cold compress will also help to reduce pain and swelling. Pain killing medications will also be useful.

For both bicep strains and bruises, doctors may recommend physical therapy exercises to ensure the muscle is properly rehabilitated.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is usually not treatable although a massage can provide some relief. The pain and soreness usually goes away in a day or two. For additional information on this condition, please see this article.

Other Causes Of Bicep Pain

In addition to being indicative of a sports medicine injury, bicep pain can be due to illness or infection. The two main conditions that fall into these categories are heart attacks or bone infections (osteomyelitis).

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when  a portion of the heart muscle dies due to inadequate blood supply to the heart. The bicep pain may occur alongside pain and tightness in the chest an shortness of breath. There may also be pain in the jaw, neck and back. You may also experience nausea, dizziness and vomiting.


Heart attacks are life threatening medical emergencies of the highest order. They cannot be treated at home. Instead, call 911 (or have someone call for you) and stay calm until the emergency services arrive.

Osteomyelitis (Bone Infection)

This can cause bicep pain when it occurs in the upper arm. It is typically caused by a bacterial or fungal infection of the upper arm bone. The origin of the infection can be a break in the skin over the upper arm bone. However, it can also enter the body elsewhere and travel to the upper arm via the bloodstream.

Besides bicep pain, you will typically experience pain over the entire upper arm as well as fever. The upper arm may also be warm, red and swollen.

This type of infection is relatively rare, but it is a serious medical condition.


Infections like these are not treatable at home. We suggest reporting to the nearest hospital emergency room for urgent treatment.

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