The purpose of this paper is to describe the complications that we encountered after using a muscle-splitting two-incision technique to repair avulsed distal biceps tendons.

We conducted a retrospective review of the results of seventy-eight consecutive anatomical repairs of the distal biceps tendon performed through a muscle-splitting two-incision technique at our institution between 1981 and 1998. Four of the patients required a graft to restore length. The seventy-four tendons that were repaired primarily through the modified Boyd-Anderson approach were analyzed in detail and form the basis of this report.

Complications developed after twenty-three (31 percent) of the seventy-four repairs. The complications included five sensory nerve paresthesias (three lateral antebrachial cutaneous and two superficial radial nerve paresthesias) in five patients. A temporary palsy of the posterior interosseous nerve developed in one patient; it resolved in six months. Six patients complained of persistent anterior elbow pain. Heterotopic ossification that did not limit forearm rotation developed in four patients, a superficial wound infection developed in three, one tendon reruptured, three patients lost forearm rotation, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy developed in one patient. No radioulnar synostoses were observed in our series. Complications developed after ten (24 percent) of the forty-one acute repairs (performed fewer than ten days after the injury), six (38 percent) of the sixteen subacute repairs (performed ten to twenty-one days after the injury), and seven (41 percent) of the seventeen delayed repairs (performed more than twenty-one days after the injury). The surgeon's experience with this procedure had no apparent effect on complication rates.

Most of the morbidity from repair of the distal biceps tendon can be attributed primarily to a delay in the timing of the repair and secondarily to an extensive anterior exposure. More importantly, radioulnar synostosis is rare following the muscle-splitting modification of the two-incision technique, which can be performed safely even by surgeons with limited experience with this procedure.