Pulled biceps can occur from long-term overuse, or from a single, load-bearing incident. Most of the time--unless a tendon is involved--the bicep strain can be rehabilitated at home and does not require surgery. While you may not want to stop exercising after your injury, it's important to rest your bicep muscles so they heal quickly and without further complication.
Practitioners recommend the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) for most types of pulled or torn muscles. After your injury, use a sling to rest your arm and apply ice packs for 15 to 20 minutes, with 30 minutes between treatments. It's important to elevate your arm to prevent fluid and blood from building up, and you may wish to firmly ACE-wrap your upper arm to slow the inflammatory process. The R.I.C.E. technique should be used for the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury occurs. If it is not providing you with pain and swelling relief, contact your health practitioner for a specific treatment plan.
You can begin using NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) immediately after your injury to decrease your bicep pain. In addition to offering relief from discomfort, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen will decrease bicep swelling and improve arm mobility. Follow your doctor's dosing recommendations, and avoid combining these medications.
Topical arnica can also provide inflammation relief for acute muscle pulls. The perennial plant extract comes in tincture, cream and ointment form, and can be safely rubbed into the muscle belly to help with pain, bruising and throbbing. It stimulates blood flow to the injured area, which encourages healing and prevents unwanted fluid buildup.
After the first 24 hours, moist heat can ease pulled bicep pain. Between ice treatments, take a warm shower, soak in a hot tub or apply a damp, hot pack to improve range of motion and soothe discomfort. Allow your body to return to its normal temperature between heat applications, and don't use heat for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
While heat can be a helpful remedy for strained biceps, avoid using it if you're still experiencing severe swelling one to two days after your injury. Heat should not be used until the inflammation begins to subside.
For severe bicep pulls, you may require supervised physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises. After the first week, your therapist will begin to do range-of-motion exercises for your elbow and shoulder. It's important to continue gently moving your arm after your injury so you don't experience muscle atrophy and loss of mobility.
As range of motion improves, your physical therapist will encourage you to strengthen the injured bicep. The resistance and duration of your exercise program will vary with your pain tolerance. Remember, though, that more weight is not necessarily better. It's important to rebuild muscle slowly and allow your arm proper healing time.
Your therapist may also give you a list of home exercises so you can continue strengthening and stretching your bicep on your own. Follow the instructions carefully so you don't exacerbate your injury or impede the recovery process.
Many pulled muscles happen when your body isn't physically prepared to do the job you're asking of it. To decrease your chances of a bicep injury, do resistance exercises regularly, and slowly increase your weight and repetitions. Avoid launching into a heavy weightlifting program without preparation.
It is also easy to strain a muscle when you exercise without a proper warmup. Get ready for your weight workout with five to 10 minutes of a cardiovascular activity, followed by gentle stretching.
Finally, to prevent bicep injuries, make sure you're using proper technique for each exercise--and stop when your arms have reached muscle fatigue. Overtired muscles are easier to injure.