When Popeye’s arm stops being a symbol of strength and becomes undesirable

When Popeye’s arm stops being a symbol of strength and becomes undesirable


If you remember Popeye the sailor, surely there are three things that come to mind: the pipe, his love for spinach and the tremendous arms that came out when he took them.

The muscular arm of this cartoon that entertained many generations with their adventures to rescue Olivia from her ultra enemy Brutus derived even in a medical term: the “Popeye sign” .

Far from being a super power that gives us extraordinary strength is the opposite: a deformation that subtracts muscle power.

According to the Tabers medical dictionary , it is a bulge of the body of the biceps brachii muscle that results from the rupture of the tendon.

In other words, it is a partial or complete tear of one of the tendons that joins the biceps with the shoulder and the elbow. It manifests visibly in the anterior region of the arm.

At first glance, it seems as if you are trying to flex the biceps muscle in an exaggerated way.

Laura Velasco Matarranz, physiotherapist specializing in sports injuries and biomechanics as well as a researcher for an entity associated with the Autonomous University of Madrid, spoke with BBC Mundo to explain the case.

“The Popeye sign is produced in the kneecaps of the biceps, it breaks and, as the muscular belly is large and powerful, the muscle retracts and therefore a bulge is visible.”

Graphic of the rupture of a tendon.Copyright of theGETTY IMAGESimage
Image captionHere we can see the rupture of a tendon in the proximal end, more common in young people.

The expert said that bulges of this type are also produced when there is a muscle break in any other muscle, such as in the twin but only in the arm is called Popeye, in reference to the characteristic cartoon.

When a break occurs, the muscle weakens so that despite being called Popeye sign does not grant any superior muscle power .

A case in Japan

That’s what happened to a 79-year-old man from Japan who came to the hospital a few months ago when he felt pain and saw a strange lump on the upper part of his left arm.

The case was announced by the New England Journal of Medicine . Dr. Yoshihiko Tsuchida, from the hospital in Kanawa (a province near Tokyo) knew what it was all about when he saw the case, says the publication.

Young man lifting weights.Copyright of theGETTY IMAGESimage
Image captionTendon rupture among young patients may be due to overstretching.

The doctor says that the deformation was obvious and became more pronounced with the flexion of the arm so when he performed the MRI he confirmed his suspicions: complete breakage of the head of the biceps tendon.

The medical journal points out that the Popeye sign does not always appear when there is a rupture of the tendon.


The rupture of the biceps tendon often occurs frequently in elderly patientsbecause of the wear and tear on the shoulder joint, muscles, ligaments and tendons, according to the US Center for Biotechnology of Information (NCBI). acronym in English).

The Spanish physiotherapist pointed out that the Popeye sign can be produced in two different ways depending on the type of patient .

“If the muscle rupture occurs in part pr or ximal (shoulder) is usually more people wear. If occurs in the distal portion (elbow) it is usually in young people taking a high weight or make an effort of violent contraction. ”

Bandaged arm of manCopyright of theGETTY IMAGESimage
Image captionPhysiotherapy can help to recover the rupture, but sometimes surgical intervention is necessary.

About symptoms, patients usually indicate that they have pain and bruising and inflammation, in addition to functional disability, the specialist said. Normally no surgical treatment is necessary .

“If it is in an older person, with physiotherapy , good functionality is achieved and usually it is not operated, but if it is a young patient with a rupture caused by a trauma, it usually receives surgical intervention.”

This patient in particular, detailed Dr. Tsuchida, was treated with anti-inflammatoryremedies without steroids and four months later his pain was reduced and had no impact on his daily life.

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