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Triceps Tendon Rupture


The triceps muscle is a three-headed muscle of the back of the upper arm that functions to straighten the elbow. The triceps tendon attaches to the bony projection of the elbow on the back of the elbow called the olecranon.

What is a triceps tendon rupture?

A triceps tendon rupture occurs on the back of the elbow. The tendon detaches from the olecranon and cannot pull on the bone, thereby causing weakness with elbow extension. A triceps tendon rupture is a significant injury that can lead to profound disability if left untreated.

What causes a triceps tendon rupture?

These injuries can result from a direct or indirect blow. It can also result from a fall on an outstretched hand, as well as chronic overuse that leads to degenerative changes.

Who is at risk?

Football players and weightlifters, and people who participate in martial arts and combat sports are at risk for a triceps tendon rupture. Young, active men and the elderly with systemic disease are also at risk.

Kidney disease is known to cause tendinopathy. Steroid use is known to damage tendon quality. Anabolic steroid abuse by weightlifters, local steroid injection, and oral corticosteroid use are risk factors. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis and degenerative arthritis are associated with tendon weakening.

What are the symptoms of a triceps tendon rupture?

  • Pain and swelling
  • Tenderness along the back of the elbow
  • Bruising
  • Reduced strength and range of motion
  • Difficulty fully straightening the elbow
  • An observable depression near the olecranon

How is it diagnosed?

Patient history and physical examination are critical to diagnosis. A physical exam can reveal an obvious gap in the tendon in 80% of injuries, which indicates a tendon rupture. In addition to an examination, Dr. Cooper may recommend a x-rays, ultrasound or MRI to confirm a clinical diagnosis.

What are the treatment options?

Surgery is indicated for all full-thickness and high grade partial-thickness triceps tendon tears. Delay can impact the success of surgery and restoration of function. Early surgical repair can prevent late disability and maximize functional outcome. Post-operative rehabilitation is essential to increase strength and range of motion.

There are various surgical techniques available. Surgery aims to reattach the triceps tendon to the olecranon via suturing the tendon to the bone with anchors. When the tendon cannot be repaired, a graft of a tendon from a donor can be used to repair the damage. The outcome is restored strength and function even in high demand individuals. Surgery provides good to excellent results even for chronic tears.

After surgery, you will be in a splint or brace and participate in 3 months of physical therapy to restore function and strength, so that you can gradually return to play.

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