OAM Sports Medicine Specialist, Dr. Brian Capogna, explains what tennis elbow is and how it can best be treated.
Tennis Elbow typically happens when a repetitive swinging motion pulls on the extensor tendons that connect the muscles in the forearm to the elbow, creating microscopic tears. Despite its name, there are many types of activities that can injure these tendons, especially those involving repetitive wrist motion. Although it continues to be a mystery as to why some patients develop Tennis Elbow while others are not affected, we do know that the result is an abnormal change in the quality of the tendon itself, called angiofibroblastic hyperplasia.
Typical symptoms include pain along the outer side of the elbow with wrist motion and with gripping. The pain can be especially exacerbated by activities involving lifting objects with your elbow extended and the palm of your hand facing downward.
Recent data suggests that nearly all cases may resolve spontaneously, and the best practice is to start with non-operative treatment options. Avoiding aggravating activities or modifying the way you perform them can help decrease pain. For instance, when lifting objects, be sure to lift them closer to your body, with your palms up. A splint or a counterforce brace can also help manage symptoms by relieving the strain on the tendon. Patients often get relief after a course of physical therapy. If the condition persists, sometimes a steroid or PRP injection will help.
Most people don’t require surgery for tennis elbow. However, if non-operative measures fail and the pain persists beyond six months, it may be time to consider surgery to repair the damaged tendons. Recovery time from surgery is relatively fast, but the tendons need time to regenerate, requiring approximately six to eight weeks.