Distal Biceps Tendon Ruptures: Diagnostic Strategy Through Physical Examination

Elisa L. Zwerus*, Derek F.P. van Deurzen, Michel P.J. van den Bekerom, Bertram The, Denise Eygendaal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Distinguishing a complete from a partial distal biceps tendon rupture is essential, as a complete rupture may require repair on short notice to restore function, whereas partial ruptures can be treated nonsurgically in most cases. Reliability of physical examination is crucial to determine the right workup and treatment in patients with a distal biceps tendon rupture. Purposes: The primary aim of this study was to find a (combination of) test(s) that serves best to diagnose a complete rupture with certainty in the acute phase (≤1 month) without missing any complete ruptures. The secondary aims were to determine the best (combination of) test(s) to identify a chronic (>1 month) rupture of the distal biceps tendon and indicate additional imaging in case partial ruptures or tendinitis are suspected. Study Design: Cohort study (Diagnosis); Level of evidence, 2. Methods: A total of 86 patients with anterior elbow complaints or suspected distal biceps injury underwent standardized physical examination, including the Hook test, passive forearm pronation test, biceps crease interval (BCI), and biceps crease ratio. Diagnosis was confirmed intraoperatively (68 cases), by magnetic resonance imaging (13 cases), or by ultrasound (5 cases). Results: A combination of the Hook test and BCI (ie, both tests are positive) was most accurate for both acute and chronic ruptures but with a different purpose. For acute complete ruptures, sensitivity was 94% and specificity was 100%. In chronic cases, specificity was also 100%. Weakness on active supination and palpation of the tendon footprint provided excellent sensitivity of 100% for chronic complete ruptures and partial ruptures, respectively. Conclusion: The combination of a positive Hook test and BCI serves best to accurately diagnose acute complete ruptures of the distal biceps tendon. Weakness on active supination and pain on palpation of the tendon footprint provide excellent sensitivity for chronic complete ruptures and partial ruptures. Using these tests in all suspected distal biceps ruptures allows a physician to refrain from imaging for a diagnostic purpose in certain cases, to limit treatment delay and thereby provide better treatment outcome, and to avoid hospital and social costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3956-3962
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number14
Early online date9 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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