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.

55 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.

    • Is there a chance I could talk to you on the phone and ask you some questions. I am having trouble finding a surgon that has performed this more than once.

      • I don’t do phone consultations other than with patients in my practice. You might try the AOSSM website and use its Find a Doctor tool to find a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon in your area who might be able to help.

  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.

  14. Hello,

    The other day I was doing an upper body workout that included dips. While performing the dips I felt a hard pop in my upper tricep. I know have a large dark bruise over my upper tricep, weakness when attempting to push myself up, pain in my tricep, lower scapula area, and a have pain if I try to straighten my arm or bend it past 90 degrees. I’m hoping it’s just a grade 2 strain. I’ve never been in this much pain or discomfort before sign a strain.

  15. hello sir i was feeling the same pain behind my elbow a popping sound could alwyas be heard i left the gym 1 yr ago the pain did not go whenever i get up from sleep i feel the pain behind the elbow i did a mri and got tricep tendon rupture i am 21 yrs old will the surgery help me know bcoz since it has been one yr would it effect my recovery chances plzz sir reply to my post.

  16. Hey dr. david, I am too suffering from a triceps tendon tear,I am a professinal handball athlete (the european handball) I saw the other comments and your replies, but I wonder, because apperantely the tendon wasn’t completely torn off, there is no other way except surgery? for full recovery and strength?
    I was working out making pull ups and even push ups, but very weak on the injured hand alone, and i can not reach full extension, and there is a very slight improvement. (I am 8 weeks now into the injury, and planned to get a surgery in 2 days) I am asking because all of the doctors are so excited to make this kind of surgery because it is considered as a rare one, so i’ve lost a little trust.
    what do you think?
    thanks a lot!

    • It often depends on how much of the tendon is torn. Physical therapy can help improve strength and range of motion, but complete recovery often depends on the extent of the tear.

      • Yeah, I guess the tendon is slightly attached but the tear is pretty bad, i understood that if I want to continue with handball so the surgey is essential, because I wouldn’t be able to generate a lot of power from that muscle in the future. and anyway the surgery is tomorrow.
        Thank you very much!

  17. Hi i suffered a partial tricep tear while throwing as hard as a i could. I am 33 years old and been bodybuilding/training for 15 years plus and did have slight tendinitis in my elbow which the tear happened which i think may have been weakening the tendon? Anyway it happened 7 weeks ago now and have seen the doctor at hospital around 5 times and they have done an x ray and an mri scan and it does show a partial tear so the one tendon is atattched and the other is deatched about 2/3 up the arm towards the tricep. The have recomened i leave it and see if i get full strength back? rather than surgery as that could make it worse or still tear ahain im not sure if this is correct? It did happen at the elbow joint and can feel the gap but the gap seems to have got smaller and the inflammation has gone down. The first two weeks it hurt to do any extension movements but now i have got back to the gym and have full range of motion and i would say strength even in tricep is around 60% now tricep dumbell extensions is the worst exercise which i avoid now but this is the movement i can really feel the movement and tendon problem. Is this something that will go and would you still recommend surgery i am hoping to compete soon and train very seriouly 5 times a week and train heavy which i have not done since injured but do want to continue? Any help would be very much appreciated as im stuck here and any doctors i have spoke to in England seem to be very vague with their opinion. Many thanks Andy Hodlen

    • Partial tears are harder to decide what the best treatment is. For high-grade partial tears (maybe 50% or greater) in active people, surgery can be a good option.

  18. I broke the end over my elbow off and the bone retracted up in my arm. I was told that when the bone broke I tore the tricep tendon and that is why it is retracted. I am looking for a sports specialist in AZ to fix this as I am an active hockey player and weight lifter. How quickly do I need to have surgery so I do not cause more damage.

    • Typically you want to fix olecranon fractures quickly, usually in the first few days after injuries. Up to about 2 weeks often isn’t too long.

      • Thank you for the information.if I wait longer than 2 weeks by the time I have an appointment and schedule surgery will this cause more or permanent damage. The other question I have is how common or easily is this fixed and do I need a specialist or can a general orthopedic surgeon complete this procedure without ant issues. I really appreciate your comments…..Thank you, John

  19. Hey Doc! I had tricep tendon repair surgery in July . My doc cleared me to start lifting weights again a few months ago. I do all exercise 20 reps . Nothing crazy heavy . The elbow always seems kinda sore for a few days. Not a really bad pain but tight. At times the elbow seems to reset itself and clicks . The pain does go away when I lift but does feel tight. Anything should I be concerned about?

  20. Hello Dr,
    A few days ago I (41 year old male) was hit on the back of my arm at practice by my elbow and felt a pop. I have already had a bicep tendon repaired and it seemed similar, but in my tricep. I went to the ER and was told it was just a bruise, even though ther is a soft spot above the elbow. Followed up the next day with my ortho and he said there is a defect but can’t tell until the MRI. I had the mri and made the mistake of looking at it before my appointment tomorrow. Stupid I know, but the stress of another surgery is killing me. My question is can excessive swelling disrupt an mri? Also, what is the general rehab time for non surgical treatment of a partial tear? And lastly, in the case of a suspected full tear, is it possible to still have a full range of motion and pass the thompson test?

  21. Dr is it possible to have nerve decompression surgery and triceps tendon surgeries at the same time peroid? Or do I have to get the two surgeries done at different times?

  22. I fell just over a month ago. An X Ray showed a fracture of the long bone just above the elbow. While out of town, the pain continued to get worse. When I returned for my recheck- I was unable to extend my arm and was sent for more X rays. A partial tear of the triceps at the same location was found. Is a month delay in treatment really bad?

    Thank you- Di

  23. I had a distal triceps reattachment 10 weeks ago after fully rupturing the tricep tendon doing a bar muscle up exercise routine. I got my brace off 2 weeks ago and now have full range of motion. Have just started isometric strength resistance as part of my surgeon recommended PT. I still have irritation in my elbow and even some slight pain when I apply resistance to my arm in extension types of isometric resistance exercises. Is it normal 10 weeks out to still have some pain in the elbow? If so, is there a typical range of time that this pain lasts?

  24. Dr. Geier:

    I saw your video and it was quite helpful. I saw one orthopedic surgeon (before watching your video) and I am looking for a second opinion ( I am more prepared now). The MRI shows a 4.2 cm retraction of my left distal tricep after my fall about three weeks ago ( the Urgent Care physician told me there was no fracture and to merely apply ice – bad advice).
    My problem is that I do not see the Dr. I consulted nor the one I will be consulting in the AOSSM portal for the Miami area. Can you share a couple of names in South Florida? If not, I will appreciate another tip for finding the right Dr. ( I tried Yelp but it is not reliable). Thx. Jay

  25. Hi Doc,

    So I had partial triceps tendon tear with a partial olecranon stress fracture. I am 28 and was wondering will I ever be able to go back to lifting weights (not crazy heavy, just maybe back to benching my own weight, 170lb)? Moreover, this question is actually about the olecranon fracture part, does it have an effect on the recovery time?

  26. Hi dr, I have had oceram surgery 10 weeks ago, 2 plates, 12 pins, wires and cement.
    The pain in the last three weeks is worsening, though as you would know was never nice.
    The pain is above the elbow two to three inches above, with a deep pain. Sometimes burning pain.
    My surgeon never put it in a cast, wanting movement with it within days,
    I’m just frustrated cannot straighten the arm, and it sort of locks then goes a little further.
    Any help would be appreciated with the length of rehabilitation.

  27. I found out yesterday after insisting my dr do an X-ray on my elbow because I knew something wasn’t right and he had originally said I had golfers elbow. He had me go to X-ray and sent me straight home being confident that it couldn’t be the tendent. A couple hours after returning home I had a message stating that the triceps tendent had pulled off the bone and wants me to get a cast put on it in a few days. From what I have read, including in your article this injury requires surgery to repair?
    I understand you can not give medical advice but my question is, should I be trying to get in to see some kind of specialist? And what kind of doctor usually handles these kinds of injuries?

  28. I tore something in my triceps
    (hopefully in the belly) a week ago. Blood drained into my forearm but its faded a lot. I was leading my 120 lb dog away 2 unleashed large dogs as they charged us. My arm got jerked and felt the familiar electric bolt. I’ve torn other muscles and rehabbed myself (left pec major, left and right quads, left triceps, right bicep,both shoulders). I’m uninsured so seeing a doctor isn’t an option at this time. Since it happened a week ago, it may be just too early to tell. I would think I’d have a lot more drainage from a tendon breaking or coming off. It’s painful, but I can just now barely extend my arm overhead. Before injury, that arm could triceps extend a 35 lb dumbbell single handed for reps. I’ve never had one, so what are signs of a possible tendon rupture? Thank you.

  29. I tore my medial triceps a month ago. I have full range of motion, but extensions are very weak. I can still do assisted dips, Hammer strength decline, pec deck flyes, and light dumbbell raises. At first, I worried that I ruptured my tendon, but that’s not possible because other triceps still work. I can feel the scarred tissue in my medial head, anterior near the elbow. When it tore, it sounds like crushing cereal and a jolt from the nerve. My tear is a grade 2, so it will take 2-3 months to heal with therapy. So don’t confuse this injury with a tendon rupture because at first, they have similar symptoms.

  30. I am on day 3 following a tricep repair. I am wearing a sling but this afternoon jerked my elbow by accident . How strong are the stitches/sutures they use to tie the tendon thru the drilled holes in the elbow.? I AM REALLY WORRIED incase I may have snapped them . Just wondering how much stress they can take. OR will I just find out in 5 weeks time when I revisit surgeon?

  31. Hi there my tricep tendon torn off the bone back in november 2015, two out of the 3 heads are attached but one head of tricep detatched, i did not have surgery as did not want the pain or timeoff gym and work.

    Im a bodybuilder heavy lidfting and other sports, and used to lifting very heavy 5/6 days a week, benching 200kg and was very depressing as at first could not even have the strength in my right arm to close the boot of my car and no way a press or extension of any sort.

    A year and 4 months after i can bench now around 100kg and do all exercies all be it lighter on my right side, my right arm is physically smaller and visably differnt shape which is annoying as do competitions so wanted to ask if it was worth still having surgery now? and if my strength will come back eventuallyu?
    my tricep does ache once exercised and at night. Im 34 years old. thanks for any hlpe

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