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Tennis Elbow

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Treatment Overview

(continued)

Treatment if the condition gets worse or does not improve

The longer you continue activity that harms the tendon after tennis elbow symptoms begin, the longer rehab will take. This ongoing activity can cause severe tendon damage and may someday require surgery. If your symptoms don't go away, your doctor may suggest:

  • Corticosteroid injections, which can help relieve pain for a short time.1 This treatment is sometimes used when you still have pain after 6 to 8 weeks of rest and rehab. Corticosteroids may be harmful to the tendon. But this is usually only a problem after having many injections in the same year.
  • Ultrasound therapy. Ultrasound may help your tendon heal and stop pain.
  • Surgery, which is seldom used to treat tennis elbow (less than 5 out of 100 cases).2 Surgery may be a treatment option if persistent elbow pain doesn't improve after 6 to 12 months of tendon rest and rehab. Surgery usually involves cutting (releasing) the tendon, removing damaged tissue from the tendon, or both. In some cases, tendon tears can be repaired.

What to think about

Your treatment choices will depend in part on whether elbow pain affects your job or daily life. It also depends on whether you are willing or able to change habits or activities that are causing your elbow pain.

Nonsurgical treatment is usually started if the injury is:

  • A result of overuse.
  • A sudden (acute) injury that doesn't have large tears in the tendon or other severe damage in the elbow.

Most cases of tennis elbow respond to rest, ice, rehab exercises, pain medicine, and counterforce braces. This injury does take from 6 months to 12 months to heal. Patience helps.

Surgery is considered as a last resort when all other nonsurgical treatments have failed. You may be referred for surgery if:

  • The injury is from a sudden (acute) injury that left large tears in the tendon or other severe damage in the elbow.
  • The injury is from chronic overuse and more than 6 to 12 months of tendon rest and rehab haven't relieved elbow pain. (If the tendon is very weak, surgery may not improve your situation much.)
  • Pain continues despite other treatment.
  • You have had a corticosteroid shot and it hasn't helped.

In as many as 9 out of 10 people who have tennis elbow, symptoms go away and the people can return to their normal activities whether they have had surgery or not.3

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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