Is a Biceps Tenodesis the Answer?

I read a lot of stuff on the internet.  I like to keep up with a ton of blogs, websites, and journals to make sure I am on top of recent trends, but also to share with my readers.  I recently came across an article at Science Direct entitled Getting Athletes Back in the Game Sooner Following Shoulder Injuries.  Nice headline, right?  It made me want to click.

Interestingly, they were talking about how a biceps tenodesis can cut down the rehabilitation time from SLAP tears in comparison to a SLAP repair.  That wasn’t what I was expecting!

OK, would a tenodesis cut down (no pun intended…) the rehab time in comparison to a SLAP repair?  No doubt, I agree with that.  But I am not sure if this is what we want to do, especially in athletes, as the title of the article suggested.  Let’s dig into this deeper, but first, let’s discuss SLAP tears and what the biceps tenodesis surgery actually does.


What is a SLAP Tear and Biceps Tenodesis?

biceps labral complexI’ve covered superior labral tears, or SLAP tears extensively in the past.  If you don’t know much about SLAP tears, start there, but essentially a SLAP tear is a superior labral tear at the junction of where the long head of the biceps comes in and attaches to the superior labrum.  SLAP tears are common, and can be especially troublesome for overhead athletes.  (Photo from Wikipedia)

A biceps tenodesis is a surgical procedure that detaches the biceps attachment from the superior labrum and reattaches it to the humerus.  Here is a surgical demonstration from Smith and Nephew:

YouTube Preview Image


By removing the biceps, this essentially eliminates the patient’s pain from the SLAP lesion or biceps tendonitis, however at what consequence?  By performing a tenodesis, you are changing the anatomy of the shoulder and the function of the biceps.  This procedure has become more popular in older individuals, essentially those that chose a decrease in function for a decrease in pain.  But what about athletes, as the paper I mentioned above proposed was happening, can they return to sports faster by simply cutting the biceps off instead of trying to repair it?

One of the most popular studies on this subject was in AJSM in 2009.  The authors reported that the results of biceps tenodesis were superior to SLAP repairs in athletes with superior labral tears.  The authors mention both “overhead athletes” and “return to sport” in the paper, though they report the age range of subjects was 24-69 years old.  Furthermore, significant differences in age existed between the two groups, with the mean age of 37 years old in the SLAP repair group and mean age of 52 years old in the biceps tenodesis group.  One could certainly argue that the level of “sport” participation was different between the groups and could certainly influence their subjective satisfaction.


What is the Function of the Biceps?

Biomechanical studies have shown that the biceps labrum complex has a role in providing both translational and rotational stability, and that repair of a SLAP lesion restores this ability to provide static stability.  This is especially true in overhead athletes who need to use their arm in the abducted and externally rotated position.  Contraction of the long head of the biceps in this position has been shown to reduce anterior humeral head displacement, a functional that is critical in preventing throwing injuries.  In fact, peak biceps EMG activity has been shown to occur during this cocking phase of throwing, and has been shown to be higher in pitchers that have anterior instability.

Also, don’t forget that release of the long head of the biceps has been shown to increase superior humeral head migration by over 15%.

As all my readers know, superior humeral head migration is disadvantageous and causes many of the dysfunctions we see with the shoulder.  Our whole goal of most shoulder rehabilitation programs is to train the rotator cuff to dynamically stabilize to resist superior humeral head migration.  I’ve written about the role of rotator cuff fatigue in shoulder mechanics and how rotator cuff fatigue increases superior humeral head migration.

So if the biceps is involved with translational and rotational glenohumeral stability and helps prevent superior humeral head migration, is this something you want to sacrifice just to reduce pain?  How will this impact function, and more importantly, future injuries?


Is a Biceps Tenodesis the Answer?

Is there a role for biceps tenodesis?  I am sure there is.  I like the recommendations my friend Brian Busconi reports in this paper, stating that he likes to perform SLAP repairs, but will consider biceps tenodesis in patients over the age of 45.  This serves a different purpose and return to high level athletics is probably not as important to the patient than reducing their pain.  I have heard Dr. Altchek from New York report in meetings that he thinks biceps tenodesis may be an option, but one he reserves for those who fail a SLAP repair.   Still, I have to wonder what the long term effects of the biceps tenodesis will do on this patient population as well.  Will the increased superior humeral head cause rotator cuff pathology or degenerative changes?  Only time will tell.

There is also recent chatter about the use of the biceps tenodesis procedure in overhead athletes and the risk of humeral head fracture.  This is a consequence that must be considered.

Noted orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews was recently asked about the biceps and the potential for biceps tenodesis, to which he replied “The biceps is there for a purpose — it’s too intrinsically associated with the shoulder joint.  Until we know what the real function of it is, we’re stabbing in the dark.”  When asked if a biceps tenodesis is the answer to athletes returning to sport, similar to a Tommy John procedure, he replied “With Tommy John surgery, we’re actually restoring anatomy. In the case of biceps tenodesis, you’re deleting anatomy.”

SEE ALSO: Dr. Lyle Cain from Dr. Andrews’ American Sports Medicine Institute discusses some of the facts and fiction related to the biceps tenodesis surgery.

So, sadly, I don’t think we all learned a great new way “get athletes back in the game sooner following shoulder injuries” like the Science Direct title would suggest.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I would have to agree with Dr. Andrews, I always prefer procedures that restore anatomy when possible.  Don’t get me wrong, a biceps tenodesis has it’s place.  But I’m not sure if it is the magical secret to getting athletes back faster, there just has to be some consequences.

What has your experience been?  Have you seen many athletes opt for a biceps tenodesis rather than a SLAP repair?




6 Keys Factors in the Rehabilitation of Shoulder Instability – Part 2

Shoulder Instability Rehabilitation

Last week we began exploring some of the factors that I think are most important in designing rehabilitation programs for nonoperative shoulder instability.  As we discussed, shoulder instability covers a very large group of people, and different types of instability will require modifications to our rehabilitation and training programs.


Key Factors in Shoulder Instability

Check out part 1 of this series on my key factors in the nonoperative shoulder instability rehabilitation to see my first 3 factors.  Below I will summarize my final 3 key points.


Factor # 4 – Direction of Shoulder Instability

Multidirectional InstabilityThe next factor to consider is the direction of shoulder instability present. The three most common forms include anterior, posterior and multidirectional. Anterior shoulder instability is the most common traumatic type of instability seen in the general orthopedic population. It has been reported that this type of instability represents approximately 95% of all traumatic shoulder instabilities. However, the incidence of posterior instabilities appears to be dependent on the patient population. For example, in professional or collegiate football, the incidence of posterior shoulder instability appears higher than the general population. This is especially true in linemen. Often, these posterior instability patients require surgery as Mair et al reported 75% required surgical stabilization.

Following a traumatic event in which the humeral head is forced into extremes of abduction and external rotation, or horizontal abduction, the glenolabral complex and capsule may become detached from the glenoid rim resulting in anterior instability, or a Bankart lesion as discussed in part 1. Conversely, rarely will a patient with atraumatic instability due to capsular redundancy dislocate their shoulder. These individuals are more likely to repeatedly sublux the joint without complete separation of the humerus from the glenoid rim.

Posterior shoulder instability occurs less frequently, only accounting for less than 5% of traumatic shoulder dislocations. This type of instability is often seen following a traumatic event such as falling onto an outstretched hand or from a pushing mechanism. However, patients with significant atraumatic laxity may complain of posterior instability especially with shoulder elevation, horizontal adduction and excessive internal rotation due to the strain placed on the posterior capsule in these positions.

Multidirectional instability (MDI) can be identified as shoulder instability in more than one plane of motion. Patients with MDI have a congenital predisposition and exhibit ligamentous laxity due to excessive collagen elasticity of the capsule.

imageOne of the most simple tests you can perform to assess MDI is the sulcus sign.  I would consider an inferior displacement of greater than 8-10mm during the sulcus maneuver with the arm adducted to the side as significant hypermobility, thus suggesting significant congenital laxity.  You can see this pretty good in this photo to the right, the sulcus is clearly larger than my finger width.

Due to the atraumatic mechanism and lack of acute tissue damage with MDI, ROM is often normal to excessive. Patients with recurrent shoulder instability due to MDI generally have weakness in the rotator cuff, deltoid and scapular stabilizers with poor dynamic stabilization and inadequate static stabilizers. Initially, the focus is on maximizing dynamic stability, scapula positioning, proprioception and improving neuromuscular control in mid ROM. Also, rehabilitation should focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of glenohumeral joint force couples through co-contraction exercises, rhythmic stabilization and neuromuscular control drills. Isotonic strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff, deltoid and scapular muscles are also emphasized to enhance dynamic stability.


Factor #5 – Neuromuscular Control

neuromuscular controlThe fifth factor to consider is the patient’s level of neuromuscular control, particularly at end range.  Injury with resultant insufficient neuromuscular control could result in deleterious effects to the patient. As a result, the humeral head may not center itself within the glenoid thereby compromising the surrounding static stabilizers. The patient with poor neuromuscular control may exhibit excessive humeral head migration with the potential for injury, an inflammatory response, and reflexive inhibition of the dynamic stabilizers.

Several authors have reported that neuromuscular control of the glenohumeral joint may be negatively affected by joint instability.  Several research articles have been published looking at this. Lephart et al compared the ability to detect passive motion and the ability to reproduce joint positions in normal, unstable and surgically repaired shoulders. The authors reported a significant decrease in proprioception and kinesthesia in the shoulders with instability when compared to both normal shoulders and shoulders undergoing surgical stabilization procedures. Smith and Brunoli reported a significant decrease in proprioception following a shoulder dislocation. Blasier et al reported that individuals with significant capsular laxity exhibited a decrease in proprioception compared to patients with normal laxity. Zuckerman et al noted that proprioception is affected by the patient’s age with older subjects exhibiting diminished proprioception than a comparably younger population. Thus, the patient presenting with traumatic or acquired instability may present with poor neuromuscular control that must be addressed.


Factor # 6 – Pre-Injury Activity Level

The final factor to consider in the nonoperative rehabilitation of the unstable shoulder is the arm dominance and the desired activity level of the patient. If the patient frequently performs an overhead motion or sporting activities such as a tennis, volleyball or a throwing sport, then the rehabilitation program should include sport specific dynamic stabilization exercises, neuromuscular control drills and plyometric exercises in the overhead position once full, pain free ROM and adequate strength has been achieved. Patients whose functional demands involve below shoulder level activities will follow a progressive exercise program to return full ROM and strength. The success rates of patients returning to overhead sports after a traumatic dislocation of their dominant arm are low. Arm dominance can also significantly influence the successful outcome. The recurrence rates of instabilities vary based on age, activity level and arm dominance. In athletes involved in collision sports, the recurrence rates have been reported between 86-94%.


To summarize, nonoperative rehabilitation of shoulder instability has many subtle variations.  To simplify my thought process, I always think of these 6 key factors before I decide what I want to do.   For more information on the rehabilitation of shoulder instability, check out 7-week online CEU program at that includes an entire week dedicated to this topic.

I hope these factors help you too.  What other factors do you consider when designing rehabilitation programs for shoulder instability?

6 Key Factors in the Rehabilitation of Shoulder Instability – Part 1

Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability is a common pathology encountered in the orthopedic and sports medicine setting. But “shoulder instability” itself isn’t that simple to understand.  There exists a wide range of symptomatic shoulder instabilities from subtle recurrent subluxations to traumatic dislocations. Nonoperative rehabilitation is commonly utilized for shoulder instability to regain previous functional activities through specific strengthening exercises, dynamic stabilization drills, neuromuscular training, proprioception drills, scapular muscle strengthening program and a gradual return to their desired activities.


Key Factors When Designing Rehabilitation Programs for Shoulder Instability

Because there are so many different variations of shoulder instability, it is extremely important to understand several factors that will impact the rehabilitation program.  This will allow us to individualize programs and enhance recovery.  There are 6 main factors that I consider when designing my rehabilitation programs for nonoperative shoulder instability rehabilitation.  Below are the first three and part 2 of this series on nonoperative shoulder instability rehabilitation covers the last three.


Factor #1 – Chronicity of Shoulder Instability

The first factor to consider in the rehabilitation of a patient with shoulder instability is the onset of the pathology. Pathological shoulder instability may result from an acute, traumatic event or chronic, recurrent instability. The goal of the rehabilitation program may vary greatly based on the onset and mechanism of injury. Following a traumatic subluxation or dislocation, the patient typically presents with significant tissue trauma, pain and apprehension. The patient who has sustained a dislocation often exhibits more pain due to muscle spasm than a patient who has subluxed their shoulder. Furthermore, a first time episode of dislocation is generally more painful than the repeat event. Rehabilitation will be progressed based on the patient’s symptoms with emphasis on early controlled range of motion, reduction of muscle spasms and guarding and relief of pain.

Atraumatic Shoulder InstabilityConversely, a patient presenting with atraumatic instability often presents with a history of repetitive injuries and symptomatic complaints. Often the patient does not complain of a single instability episode but rather a feeling of shoulder laxity or an inability to perform specific tasks. Rehabilitation for this patient should focus on early proprioception training, dynamic stabilization drills, neuromuscular control, scapular muscle exercises and muscle strengthening exercises to enhance dynamic stability due to the unique characteristic of excessive capsular laxity and capsular redundancy in this type of patient.

The primary traumatic dislocation is most often treated conservatively with immobilization in a sling and early controlled passive range of motion (PROM) exercises especially with first time dislocations. The incidence of recurrent dislocation ranges from 17-96% with a mean of 67% in patient populations between the ages of 21-30 years old. Therefore, the rehabilitation program should progress cautiously in young athletic individuals. It should be noted that Hovelius et al has demonstrated that the rate of recurrent dislocations is based on the patient’s age and not affected by the length of post-injury immobilization. Individuals between the ages of 19 and 29 years are the most likely to experience multiple episodes of instability. Hovelius et al also noted patients in their 20’s exhibited a recurrence rate of 60% whereas patients in their 30’s to 40’s had less than a 20% recurrence rate. In adolescents, the recurrence rate is as high as 92% (37) and 100% with an open physes (31)

Chronic subluxations, as seen in the atraumatic, unstable shoulder may be treated more aggressively due to the lack of acute tissue damage and less muscular guarding and inflammation. Rotator cuff and periscapular strengthening activities should be initiated while ROM exercises are progressed. Caution is placed on avoiding excessive stretching of the joint capsule through aggressive ROM activities. The goal is to enhance strength, proprioception, dynamic stability and neuromuscular control especially in the specific points of motion or direction which results in instability complaints.


Factor #2 – Degree of Shoulder Instability

Bankart LesionThe second factor is the degree of instability present in the patient and its effect on their function. Varying degrees of shoulder instability exist such as a subtle subluxation or gross instability. The term subluxation refers to the complete separation of the articular surfaces with spontaneous reduction. Conversely, a dislocation is a complete separation of the articular surfaces and requires a specific movement or manual reduction to relocate the joint. This will result in underlying capsular tissue trauma. Thus, with shoulder dislocations the degree of trauma to the glenohumeral joint’s soft tissue is much more extensive. Speer et al (49) has reported that in order for a shoulder dislocation to occur, a Bankart lesion must be present and also soft tissue trauma must be present on both sides of the glenohumeral joint capsule.

Thus, in the situation of an acute traumatic dislocation, the anterior capsule may be avulsed off the glenoid (this is called a Bankart lesion – see pictures to the right) and the posterior capsule may be stretched, allowing the humeral head to dislocate. This has been referred to as the “circle stability concept.” The rate of progression will vary based upon the degree of instability and persistence of symptoms. For example, a patient with mild subluxations and muscle guarding may initially tolerate strengthening exercises and neuromuscular control drills more than a patient with a significant amount of muscular guarding.


Factor #3 – Concomitant Pathology

Hill Sachs LesionThe third factor involves considering other tissues that may have been affected and the premorbid status of the tissue.  As we previously discussed, disruption of the anterior capsulolabral complex from the glenoid commonly occurs during a traumatic injury resulting in an anterior Bankart lesion. But other tissues may also be involved.  Often osseous lesions may be present such as a concomitant Hill Sach’s lesion caused by an impaction of the posterolateral aspect of the humeral head as it compresses against the anterior glenoid rim during relocation. This has been reported in up to 80% of dislocations. Conversely, a reverse Hill Sach’s lesion may be present on the anterior aspect of the humeral head due to a posterior dislocation.

Occasionally, a bone bruise may be present in individuals who have sustained a shoulder dislocation as well as pathology to the rotator cuff. In rare cases of extreme trauma, the brachial plexus may become involved as well. Other common injuries in the unstable shoulder may involve the superior labrum (SLAP lesion) such as a type V SLAP lesion characterized by a Bankart lesion of the anterior capsule extending into the anterior superior labrum. These concomitant lesions will affect the rehabilitation significantly in order to protect the healing tissue.


These 3 key factors is really just the tip of the iceberg.  For more information and detailed information on how these factors impact our rehabilitation programs, check out my online CEU program on the Recent Advances in the Evidence Based Evaluation and Treatment of the Shoulder.  There is an entire week of content dedicated to shoulder instability that takes these keys even further.


Don’t forget to read part 2 of this series on the rehabilitation of shoulder instability, where we talk about the direction of instability and more factors to consider for nonoperative shoulder instability rehabilitation.

Optin webinar graphic

5 Things You Need to Understand to Master Functional Rehab and Performance

Join Mike's Newsletter and gain FREE access to his webinar overviewing his system of integrated functional rehab and performance training, PLUS these bonuses:

1. My 1+ Hour Functional Rehab and Performance Webinar

2. My 36-Page Solving the Patellofemoral Mystery eBook

3. My Accelerated ACL Rehabilitation Protocol

Thanks! Check your email for more information and your FREE bonuses!