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.

5 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.

  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!

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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