Tennis elbow – or lateral epicondylitis, to use the medical term for this problem – can be a frustrating condition. It results from overuse in tennis as well as other sports and work activities. Doctors use both conservative therapy and surgical approaches to treat tennis elbow. Recovery often takes weeks or months. Here’s what you need to know about tennis elbow treatment, courtesy of the Florida Hand Center.
The elbow joint is the point in the arm where the humerus or upper arm bone joins the forearm bones called the radius and ulna. The joint is held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which allow it to move and provide stability. Bony bumps at the base of the humerus called epicondyles provide an attachment point for the forearm tendons, especially one called the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB). It is this tendon and its associated muscle that are most often implicated in tennis elbow.
Tennis Elbow and Overuse
Overuse, as the term implies, occurs when the same muscles and tendons are used repeatedly over a period of time. This can occur during a tennis groundstroke, painting, using a hammer and a variety of other sports and occupations. Despite its name, tennis elbow actually is more likely to occur in auto workers, cooks, and butchers than those who play tennis. Painters, carpenters, and plumbers are also susceptible to tennis elbow. Most are between the ages of 30 and 50 when symptoms of elbow pain, burning and hand weakness appear.
Lateral Epicondylitis – Non-Surgical Treatment
Once the diagnosis has been confirmed by X-rays, an MRI and an electromyogram to rule out nerve compression, most doctors recommend conservative care. Rest is the first and most important step to allow the microscopic tears in the tendon to heal. You must stop sports or work activities that stress the tendon for several weeks or even months. Aspirin and ibuprofen are used to relieve pain and reduce swelling. A brace may help rest the muscles and tendons, while physical therapy can relieve pain and strengthen muscles. Steroid injections, shock wave therapy, and platelet-rich plasma injections may also be used to relieve symptoms and promote healing.
Lateral Epicondylitis – Surgical Treatment
If you still have symptoms after six to 12 months of conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. Although the actual procedure varies, it basically involves removing damaged tendon and muscle and reattaching the healthy muscle to the bone. Surgery can be performed in the traditional manner (open surgery) with a long incision over the elbow, or arthroscopically. Arthroscopic surgery uses a miniature camera and small tools inserted through several very small incisions. Both procedures are typically performed on an outpatient basis and you’ll go home the same day.
As with any medical condition, there are no guarantees in treating tennis elbow. However, current research indicates about 80 to 95 percent of patients respond to conservative therapy or surgery. If you have symptoms of tennis elbow, please contact us for an appointment.