Lateral epicondylitis—better known as tennis elbow— is a condition in which the prominent bone and surrounding soft tissues on the outer part of the elbow become painful, usually without an identifiable trauma. More specifically, the deeper muscle of the forearm that attaches to that spot becomes squeezed by the muscle on top, causing pain and discomfort.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
The discomfort can be brought on by sports activities, heavy lifting or simple activities of life. Although lateral epicondylitis is referred to as tennis elbow, there are typically more patients with this condition who do not play tennis than those who do.
* Time is the best treatment for tennis elbow. The vast majority of tennis elbow symptoms typically go away within one year. Clinical studies have shown that the majority of treatments usually don’t shorten the duration of tennis elbow. In fact, tennis elbow is hardly ever seen in patients past their 60’s, which suggests that it can go away regardless of treatment. If the discomfort is manageable, try to go without treatment as treatments are intended to ease the pain—not necessarily cure it faster.
* Anti-inflammatory medicines don’t seem to help solve the root problem of tennis elbow because the pathology doesn’t seem to be inflammation—rather degeneration. However, the pain relieving effects of anti-inflammatory medicine can treat the discomfort. Remember that these medicines carry their own risks, so take them as prescribed and do not overdo it.
* Modalities such as heat and ice can give symptomatic relief for some people.
* Physical therapy and ultrasound treatments can be prescribed. While these may help with symptomatic relief, they have less than universally perfect results. As stated above, time is the biggest remedy for tennis elbow, other treatments usually don’t speed up the healing process.
* Injections can give relief, though often only on a temporary basis. Both cortisone injections and blood product injections (e.g. Platelet rich plasma, a.k.a. PRP) have been studied. The long-term effectiveness of PRP versus placebo is in question but they may give some short term relief.
These conservative treatments can be very effective in offering short-term pain relief—the symptoms may even go away completely. However, lateral epicondylitis is a condition that can recur even when symptoms have previously completely resolved.
Surgery is a possibility if time doesn’t work out in your favor. There are a number of procedures that have been presented to address the problem—they tend to relieve the pressure of the top muscle unit on the deeper muscle.
Remember, all surgeries have associated risks—it’s best to consider the risks versus the potential benefits before proceeding.
* Tennis elbow is a painful, but not dangerous, condition.
* It nearly always goes away within a year, with or without treatment.
* If the discomfort is too much to handle, there are treatments to address the pain. Try these treatments if necessary, but hold the course if you’re able.
Time may be the best treatment for tennis elbow; however, the pain may be just too great in some cases and a professional opinion can put your mind at ease. If you believe you’re experiencing symptoms, come see us for the help and advice you need to bounce back from tennis elbow!
Tennis Elbow / Lateral Epicondylitis – Peter D. Vizzi, M.D., Lafayette, Louisiana and surrounding areas including Breaux Bridge, Carencro, Opelousas, Abbeville, Youngsville, Broussard