Tennis elbow; serious condition or just seriously annoying?

Daniel Emerson, Orthopaedic Surgeon

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is one of the most common causes for elbow symptoms in patients with elbow pain and affects 1-3% of adults annually. It’s most commonly seen in tennis players (hence the name) but can also be brought on by heavy or repetitive lifting or gripping. Pain from tennis elbow occurs primarily on the outside of the elbow but the pain can spread into the forearm and wrist and may increase with arm movement or simple activities such as bending the wrist back, shaking hands or turning a doorknob. In addition, the elbow may also be swollen and tender to the touch. Generally speaking, lateral epicondylitis is a self-limiting condition which means that in most, over time, it will go away. However, it is a nagging annoyance for many patients seen in our practice and can seem like it lasts forever to those suffering from the pain which can often intensify with even mundane daily activity. So how can patients improve their symptoms or make them tolerable until the issue resolves? Our physicians believe conservative treatment is best, and symptoms resolve in 95% of patients without surgical intervention. Treatment options available include oral NSAID’s (in moderation and with your PCP’s blessing of course), a simple wrist splint (to prevent the motions that aggravate), tennis elbow straps and Flexbar exercises (which involve eccentric exercises for the wrist extensors with a durable resistance device). Injections and surgery are a more aggressive approach and are controversial in the opinion of some physicians as current research indicates that injection treatments may actually prolong healing and increase pain (even if they provide initial relief of symptoms). While there are several surgical procedures performed for the condition, there isn’t a gold standard procedure practiced widely at this time and many patients are still left plagued by the same symptoms afterwards. Injections and surgery aren’t the “wrong” answer but simply put, there isn’t a quick and easy “fix” and the best treatment option available is patience!

While living with tennis elbow isn’t damaging or harmful per say, it’s definitely a pain in the…elbow. If you’re struggling with tennis elbow symptoms, feel free to make an appointment with our office for evaluation and treatment discussion with one of our orthopaedic specialists.