Shoulder Musculo-Tendinous Pathology: Problems of the Biceps, Supra and Infra Spinatus
WSAVA 2002 Congress
Jean-Pierre Genevois
Professor of Small Animal Surgery, Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire de Lyon
L'Etoile, France


The biceps brachii tendon inserts on the supraglenoid tubercle, then crosses the shoulder joint cranio-medially and gains the intertubercular groove of the humerus in which it is secured by the transverse ligament. The synovial sheath of the tendon is an extension of the scapulo-humeral joint synovium and capsule. The amount of cranial support to the shoulder joint provided by the biceps tendon is controversial. The biceps brachii muscle acts both as an extensor of the shoulder joint and a flexor of the elbow joint.


BT is an inflammatory situation of the tendon and its synovial sheath, which may be related to repeated direct or indirect trauma, cranial migration of joint mice in ostochondritis dissecans or synovial osteochondromatosis, or with DJD of the shoulder joint. It is generally seen in medium to large breed dogs, with an acute or chronic onset of lameness and an atrophy of deltoid, supra and infra-spinatus muscles.

The precise diagosis is not easy to make, the only «specific» criteria being a pain elicited when the shoulder is flexed and the elbow fully extended. Applying a direct pressure on the tendon is generally painful, more obviously in the position previously described.

Plain radiograph is of poor interest at the beginning, but may demonstrate some osteophytic deposition in the intertubercular groove in chronic situation. Arthrography may demonstrate adhesions between the tendon and the synovium. Echography may be of interest, as arthroscopy. The diagnostic relies often on elimating other causes of shoulder lameness.

In acute cases, conservative treatment with strict rest (3 to 4 weeks) and NSAID therapy is usually sufficient. Intra-articular or peri-tendinous injection of 40 to 60 mg of methylprednisolone, repeated 3 weeks later may be considered.

If conservative measures fail, surgical treatment is recommended. The goal is to eliminate pain by preventing the movement of the biceps in its inflamed sheath. Several techniques have been described: section of the transverse humeral ligament, section of the origin then displacement of the tendon out of the intertrabecular groove and reattachment to the supraspinatus through a bone tunnel, section of the tendon and reattachment to the proximal humerus by a bone screw and spiked washer. Postoperativey, the dog is confined for 3 weeks with a Velpeau sling, and exercice increases progressively to normal at 6 weeks postoperatively.

Rupture of the Tendon of the Biceps Brachii Muscle

In the growing dog (4 to 8 months) there is generally an avulsion of the supraglenoid tubercle, which can be seen on a plain Xray and treated by a bone screw or kirschner wires and a tension wire.

In the mature dog, the rupture of the tendon occurs near its origin on the tubercle. The lameness is generally obvious, but flexion of the elbow is only lightly impaired during locomotion. Diagnosis is difficult: plain Xrays are generally sub-normal, some cranial joint hyperlaxity may be present on physical examination. Arthrography may be of interest if there is a filling defect in the lesion area. Arthroscopy, if available, is interesting. Suturing or reattachment of the tendon may be difficult, so a tenodesis with relocation of the tendon on the proximal humerus (see tenosynovitis) is considered as an appropriate treatment.

Medial Displacement of the Tendon of the Biceps Brachii Muscle

This uncommon injury has been described mainly in greyhounds. Displacement of the tendon out of the intertrabecular groove is secondary to a rupture, distension or agenesia of the transverse ligament.

Lameness is exacerbated with exercice. When manipulating the shoulder, and palpating the intertrabecular groove area, the tendon may be felt to slip out of the groove on flexion of the joint, then return in a normal position on extension. Treatment relies on replacing the tendon in normal position, then forming a roof over the groove with a small plate, a staple, or a wire. Tenodesis of the tendon with fixation to the proximal humerus may be considered.

Infraspinatus Muscle Contracture

This condition occurs most likely in hunting (or working) dogs. The history is generally associated with an acute onset of unilateral lameness during exercice, which improved gradually, 2 to 4 weeks before characteristic gait abnormality. The problem is related to a post-traumatic fibrosis and contracture of the infraspinatus muscle which limits the range of motion (extension) of the shoulder joint. At rest, in sitting position, the elbow may be held flexed, with the distal limb adducted and externally rotated. At the walk, there is a persistent outward rotation and abduction of the elbow. Manipulation of the shoulder is not painful but demonstrate limitation of motion.

Treatment is related at restoring normal forelimb function by tenotomy of the infraspinatus muscle, performed by a direct approach, lateral to the greater tubercle immediately followed by mobilisation of the joint to breakdown adhesions. The limb is left unbandaged. The prognosis for full recovery is excellent.


Mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon, close to its attachement on the greater tubercle, has been described as an uncommon cause of lameness in medium to large size dogs, 3 to 4 years of age. The lameness is a chronic, weight bearing one, which worsens during exercice. On plain medio-lateral Xrays, mineralization is observed, but is more precisely localised (in relation to bicipital tendon) on cranio-caudal Xrays with the shoulder flexed.

Whether mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon is always pathologic and what treatment is the best one are controversial. A retrospective study (Laitinen & Flo) emphazises the good results of conservative treatment (3 months rest, NSAID, possibly intra-articular injection of methylprednisolone). Surgery should be used if conservative treatment fails, or in case of mineralization close to the tendon of the biceps, wich may be a cause of tenosynovitis.


Bicipital Tenosynovitis (Bt)

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2.  Butterworth (S.) The Shoulder dans HOULTON (J.E.F) et Collinson (R.W) Manual of small animal arthrology BSAVA 1994, 149-174

3.  Goring & coll Medial displacement of the tendon of origin of the biceps brachii muscle in the racing greyhound. JAAHA 1984, 20, 933-938

4.  Kramer (M.H) Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Sonographie zur Darstellung physiologischer und pathologischer Prozesse im Bereich der Muskulatur, der Sehnen uns der Gelenke des Hundes. Thèse pour l'Habilitation, Faculté Vétérinaire de Giessen, 1999.

5.  Lincoln (J) & Potter (K) Tenosynovitis of the biceps brachii tendon in dogs. JAAHA, 1984, 20, 385-392

6.  Stobie (D) & coll Chronic bicipital tenosynovitis in dogs: 29 cases (1985-1992). JAVMA 1995, 207, 2, 201-207

Mineralization Of The Supraspinatus Tendon

1.  Anderson (A) & coll Unusual muscle and tendon disorders of the forelimb in the dog. JSAP 1993, 34, 2, 313-318

2.  Flo (G.L) & Midleton (D) Mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon in dogs. JAVMA 1990, 197, 95-97

3.  Kujat (R) The microangiographic pattern of the rotator cuff of the dog. Arch. Orthop. Trauma. Surg. 1990, 109, 68-71

4.  Kriegleder (H) Mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon: clinical observations in seven dogs.VCOT 1995, 8, 91-97

5.  Laitinen (O.M) & Flo (G.L) Mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon in dogs: a long-term follow-up. JAAHA, 2000, 36, 262-267

6.  Muir (P) & Johnson (K.A) Supraspinatus and biceps brachii tendinopathy in dogs. JSAP 1994, 35, 239-243

Speaker Information
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Jean-Pierre Genevois
Professor of Small Animal Surgery
Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire de Lyon
L'Etoile, France

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