Arm Pain & Biceps Tendonitis

Arm pain is a common complaint among drummers. Pain in the upper arm can originate from a number of locations in the upper extremity, including the neck, shoulder, and elbow. However, one of the more common sources of arm pain in drummers is from the biceps tendon (i.e., biceps tendonitis).

A tendon is a band of connective tissue that attaches muscle to bone. The biceps muscle is located in the front of the upper arm and attaches to two locations in the shoulder and at the elbow. The biceps muscle functions to rotate and bend the elbow and assists in elevating the shoulder.

Biceps tendonitis is an inflammatory process in the tendon that causes pain in the front part of the shoulder and upper arm. Biceps tendonitis occurs from overuse of the arm and shoulder or from a direct injury to the biceps tendon. Repetitively riding cymbals that are set high and reaching for drums or cymbals behind and to the sides can predispose drummers to bicep tendon injuries.

Pain develops in the upper arm with movement of the shoulder, particularly when the arm is moved forward and over shoulder height. Pain is also present when you apply direct pressure over the front of the shoulder. These types of injuries are diagnosed by clinical examination by a physician and more advanced imaging studies such as an MRI of the shoulder.

Biceps tendonitis can be a very annoying injury and an extremely difficult problem to treat. The initial treatment will include the use of ice packs over the front of the shoulder for 15 minutes every two to three hours. The use of oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications initially for two to three weeks can also be useful. Occasionally a corticosteroid injection around the tendon can reduce severe inflammation and pain. Physical therapy has also been beneficial in reducing symptoms and improving function. Resting the shoulder by limiting the activities that caused the problem is also helpful. If not cared for properly, surgery may become necessary to relieve pain and repair the damaged tendon.

Performing proper warm-up exercises and stretches prior to activity and properly cooling down afterward can prevent biceps tendonitis from occurring.