Triceps Tendon Rupture

A triceps tendon rupture is an uncommon injury to the elbow that can be very debilitating. The triceps tendon is the large muscle in the back of the upper arm that serves to straighten the elbow. The triceps tendon attaches the triceps muscle to the olecranon (the bony tip of the elbow). Injury to the tendon is almost always traumatic and requires a significant amount of force. The mechanism usually involves a force that suddenly bends the elbow while the muscle is trying to straighten it. It can occur in weightlifting or in contact and collision sports such as football.

Triceps tendon rupture
The athlete who has torn his triceps tendon will have a noticeable defect just above the olecranon (orange arrow).
Injury to the triceps tendon is almost always traumatic, and the athlete will know immediately that a serious injury has occurred. Often he will describe feeling or hearing a pop in his elbow. A physician examining the injury will notice swelling and often bruising at the back of the elbow and upper arm almost immediately. Usually a defect just above the olecranon where the tendon inserts can be felt. The athlete will usually have weakness trying to straighten the elbow against resistance. The physician will usually order x-rays to determine if the injury pulled a piece of bone off the olecranon. Occasionally an MRI is ordered if the diagnosis is unclear.

Treatment involves surgery to repair the tendon. The surgeon will make an incision over the back of the elbow to expose the ruptured tendon and repair it to bone. The repair involves placing stitches in the tendon and anchoring them to the tip of the elbow either with suture anchors or through tunnels drilled in the bone. As with most tendon repairs, the surgeon then has to get the tendon to heal in that position. Healing involves immobilizing the elbow to prevent stress on the repair for several weeks. Gradually motion is started slowly and progressed over many weeks. When full motion of the elbow has been restored, strengthening of the triceps muscle and other muscles of the upper extremity is started. Unfortunately, the full recovery process is a long one. Return to sports can take many months, and therefore this is usually a season-ending injury.

If you have specific questions about triceps tendon ruptures, please Ask Dr. Geier directly or Schedule an Appointment.

27 Responses to Triceps Tendon Rupture

  1. I fell on my left arm in my home and broke the funny bone off my elbow. I suffered a 65 per cent tear in my triceps tendon. It was repaired by a very good surgeon here in Stockton Ca. I am a 75 year old active plumber< in good physical shape It Has been almost a month since surgery. I have progressed to now I ann a removable cast. I take it off around the house, on when I go out and during sleep. I try to be inactive, but it is hard I use my arm but not to lift anything heavy. can I do damage to the repair at this time. Thanks Harry

    • Harry, that is a great question. To be fair, you should ask your surgeon, as he can give you specific medical advice. Generally we are still reluctant to progress a patient’s activity too quickly to avoid disrupting healing of the repair. Your surgeon can give you guidelines on how much weight and when you can lift it, though.

  2. A few days ago ,while at work, I was throwing away some empty boxes when I felt slight discomfort in my elbow area. At first I didn’t think much of it because it went away . For the rest of my shift tho It was irritated due to my job activities. After work, I went home and woke up the next day not being able to have full range of motion. That was the worst day but everyday since then it’s been slowly getting better and I’m wondering what,if any, type of damage was done. Right after it happened , I did hear a pop but it went away and wasn’t painful . Not really sure what to do because it seems like it’s something a little tlc can take care of . Your thoughts ?

    • I can’t really say without discussing it with a patient in clinic and examining him. If a person has pain, popping, weakness or other symptom that prevents his ability to perform his decide activities, we generally recommend he consider seeing a doctor.

      • Hi Dr .. , I was diagnosed with a tricep tear at the back of the shoulder . Are you a surgeon to see for this ? thanks

  3. I recently tore my right tricep tendon off my elbow! I can work fine and im not really bothered except I am weaker at the gym1 I cannot have the surgery because I cant afford to be off work for months!! I have a young family at home and work overtime ALL the time just to make it. I guess my heavy benching days are over. Thats life!

  4. I have a friend who is an avid weightlifter but due to a snowboarding mishap last month, has a torn/ruptured tricep. Surgery was recommended otherwise he will only improve to 50% of his strength. Do you know the overall success rate on this type of surgery?

      • Thanks Dr. Geier I’m 2 weeks post op I’ve been very careful following my surgeon and OT to the tee, my question is I’m nervous about re-rupture and the likelihood this can happen. Thanks

  5. I fell on my elbow in soccer today. There is a slight lump that looks like the one above with popped blood vessels. I feel weakness and it hurts to bend it. Should i see a doctor?

    • Generally I suggest that any athlete, active person or patient that cannot do his or her activity as well as he would like after an injury might benefit from seeing a doctor to learn a diagnosis and treatment options.

  6. Hi i a high grade partial tear in my elbow tend at the joint and cannot straighten my arm. What do they mean by high grade? and will that mean a operation?

    • I can’t say in your case specifically, but high-grade tendon tears often mean 50% of the substance of the tendon torn or more.

  7. my son is a pitcher and while in gym fell on his elbow. since then he has tried to pitch and pain is persistent even after a month of rest and x-rays by an orthepedic. should he get and MRI to research further for some other possible injury that x-rays wouldn’t show?

  8. I recently fell climbing into my service truck, upon placing my arm out to catch myself felt terrible pain just above my elbow. MRI”s have shown 2 tendons ripped from my elbow. How long do you think total recovery will be. Please be praying for me GOD BLESS.

  9. dear doctor,i had a full triceps tendon detach surgery accompanied by an ulnar nerve relocation,my problem was snapping triceps

    surgery was done exactly before one year and three weeks

    for one year i have not been done nothing with my hand,the last 3 week i am going to the gym for light weight lifting,for example doing triceps press about 10 kiloes 20 reps

    all these 3 weeks elbow back side position where tendon reattached gets swelling next day after excersise,have to say the first swelling was worst than the 3rd one,so swelling is descalating within 3 weeks but havent gone

    is this normal? is this permanent,will it stay or leave on a long time basis? please advise from your experience

  10. Dr. Greer,

    What are your thoughts about men in their 40’s returning to the gym and performing dips after a tricep tendon repair (6 months post-op). I would think that this would put a lot of stress on the repair site and would set them up for more problems down the road as one ages. Thoughts, comments would be appreciated.


    • If the tendon repair has healed completely, it might be ok. That exercise does put a lot of stress on the triceps.

  11. I got a high-grade partial tear of my elbow tendon 2 years ago and just recently had debridement surgery. Since it wasn’t a recent injury the tendon had shrunk after being torn away from the bone so it couldn’t be reconnected.

    I was pain free for 2 months but now the pain is worse than before.

    Is there another course of treatment for this? Since there is nothing to reattach can the remaining tendon just be cut so the pain goes away?

    • It is hard to know without examining you. For chronic triceps tendon ruptures, there are surgeries to reconstruct a tendon using a cadaver graft.

  12. Dr Geier,

    I recently was in a Jiu jitsu sparring session. I was in a arm lock where my arm was bent and being rotated at the shoulder. It went a little too far and there was some pain all of the sudden. I tapped out and everything seemed fine until the morning.

    In the morning, straightening my arm was painful and stuff, especially if it was bent behind my head (like if I reached back to touch my neck).

    That was two weeks ago, and the pain has definitely improved. There is usually no pain I am straightening the arm in very specific positions. Also, push-ups are near impossible with sharp pain and crackling occurring on the up motion. Finally, I can almost straighten my elbow completely, but lacking like 5% of extension.

    While waiting for my doctors appointment (Im in the military, sometimes it takes awhile) I have obsessed and researched to concluding that it is my tricep or tricep tendon. This concerns me because all the information make it sound pretty serious. I was wondering if you could maybe take a guess at the severity of the injury from the description I gave while I wait for this appointment. I Am hoping that it is not too serious since I have most of my function.

  13. Hello doctor. I played sport and injured my triceps by hard throwing wodden stick. I didn’t hear or feel anything, just felt lack of strenght in my right arm. It was swollen for few days and bruised. I had ice pack on my arm after that injury happened. I went to sports medicine doctor, got MRI, it looks like triceps muscle is ok, but triceps tendon attatched to elbow is torn. there is some fluid in that area and doctro couldn’t really see if it’s partial or complete tear. I have full range of motion of my arm, can bend it and stretch it all the way, i can lift my arm up, then bend and stretch. I feel less power in my arm, especially when i try to use my triceps to push something.
    What will happen if i won’t get reattach surgery? Will it go worst? How will it affect my daily routines, sports activities?
    I’m driver by profession – in case of surgery, how long will i be sidelined from work?
    Thank you for your help

    • Patients with triceps tendon rupture tend to have significant weakness with extending the elbow against resistance – pushing away. Surgery often requires immobilization for 2-6 weeks and modification of activities for a period of time. I’d ask your doctor for his specific advice in your case.

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