Snapping Triceps

What is it?

Snapping triceps is a condition in which a tendon on the inside (medial side) of the elbow is unstable and causes a painful “snap” on flexion (bending) of the elbow.  Sometimes this “snap” produces a sound.  It is usually associated with ulnar nerve symptoms.  It is seen most commonly in men and typically present when an individual increases their muscle bulk through training.

How is it treated?

It is treated with surgery to remove the unstable tendon.  In most cases this is an extra tendon deep in the triceps muscle.  Removing this tendon does not cause any problems with the elbow.  The surgery will usually be combined with transposition of the ulnar nerve (moving it to the front of the elbow) as it is often unstable having been pushed out of position by the unstable tendon.

Many cases of snapping triceps are diagnosed as an unstable ulnar nerve and are treated with transposition of the nerve alone.  This will result in persistent symptoms and can be avoided by recognising that the unstable ulnar nerve does not “snap” because it is not under tension like a tendon.

The surgery is performed as a day case under general anaesthetic.
You will be sent home in  a bandage with no need for a splint.  The elbow can be moved immediately but the wound must be kept dry for ten days.

What is the expected outcome of surgery?

The correct surgery performed appropriately will cure nearly all cases.  Complications associated with transposition of the ulnar nerve may occur.  Scar tenderness, numbness at the elbow and infection may occur but the risks are small.