Your biceps (biceps brachii) are one of the most used muscles in your body. The muscles are also the target of many fitness training programs. It’s no wonder that overuse, strain, or trauma in these muscles is common.
Where’s the bicep?
Your biceps are muscles on the front part of your upper arm, extending between your elbow and shoulder. They have a “short head” and “long head”, meaning the muscle itself has two parts that work together as a single muscle. The biceps attach to your shoulder joint in two places and the other end of the bicep connects to your forearm bones (radius and ulna). Biceps flex your forearms at the elbow and also assist with twisting the forearm (supination).
The biceps can ache for many reasons, the most common is overuse. That’s when you attempt to lift something that’s too much for the muscle, or you do too many reps on your curls, or overdo the pull ups. In some cases, the over stretching can cause micro tears in muscle fibers or related tendons and cause a strain. Pain and swelling typically come with a strain.
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a normal side effect of strength training and the biceps are very susceptible. Delayed onset muscle soreness only affects the muscles targeted during exercise, so pain in the joints, bone or nerves surrounding your biceps is not normal post-exercise pain. If you feel pain in the tendons connecting to your bicep or other non-muscle pain, get it checked out. The pain experienced from DOMS is typically a stiff upper arm and reduced range of motion, temporarily reduced strength, and dull soreness–all that usually go away within 72 hours.
In more severe cases, the proximal (top) and distal) bottom tendons connected to the biceps can be torn away from the bone. You may experience sudden intense shoulder pain and an odd-shaped bulge in the biceps. You should see a doctor immediately if you suspect this type of tendon rupture has occurred.
What to do about the soreness
The most important thing you can do is to rest the sore muscles. The most common reason for bicep pain is overuse. That means it’s very important to pause your arm workouts for a 24 to 48 hours, or change or take a break from whatever activity caused your pain or soreness to prevent further injury.
In most cases, icing the biceps (a bag of frozen peas works great) will help the most. Ice for 20 minutes then give yourself a 30 minute break, then ice it again. Massage by a trained professional also works to reinvigorate muscle tissue and drive away metabolic waste. The therapist will focus on realigning muscle fibers and increasing circulation in the muscle to speed healing. Home-care foam rolling or other self-massage techniques may aggravate the pain, so be really careful if you attempt that. Some report that drinking tart cherry juice can help, too, so that might be worth a try. At least you won’t be thirsty.
If you’re still aching and you’re sure there’s no injury, you can take an Advil, Motrin or Aleve, but remember, these NSAIDS can interfere with the muscle’s ability to repair itself, so it’s way better to go natural to treat your bicep pain with other methods if you can.
Finally, go heavy on water. Your muscles need water to rebuild and repair and to function at their peek. Drinking water throughout the day is way better than downing a gallon at one gulp, by the way.