Stanford University scientists are serving up a new fix for tennis elbow.
The experimental procedure takes about half an hour and doesn't require surgery. Instead, a patient's own platelets are injected into the affected arm to encourage healing.
Patients who received the treatment in the Stanford study reported a drop in pain at four weeks to about half of what it was before treatment. By around two years after treatment, the patients said they had 93% less pain.
Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of arm and forearm muscles. It doesn't necessarily involve tennis; anyone who overuses the arm or forearm can get tennis elbow.
Allan Mishra, MD, and Terri Pavelko, PAC, PT, describe their new treatment in The American Journal of Sports Medicine's November edition.
Mishra and Pavelko tested the treatment on 15 patients with long-lasting tennis elbow.
Here's a quick look at the patients before treatment:
- Average age: 48
- Average duration of tennis elbow: 15 months
- Average elbow pain rating: 80 out of 100 points
The patients had already tried physical therapy, with no success, and were considering surgery for their condition.
Instead, while lying down, the patients gave about a quarter cup of blood from their healthy arm.
Mishra's team then culled platelets from each patient's blood, concentrated those platelets, and injected the mixture into the patient's affected elbow.
The procedure took about 30 minutes.
After lying down for 15 more minutes, without moving their arms, the patients went home. They were told to take it easy with their arm for a day.
For comparison, the researchers gave a painkilling shot -- but no platelets -- to the affected arm of five other people with severe, long-lasting tennis elbow.
A day after getting their shots, all patients started a stretching program, followed by a strengthening program two weeks later.
The patients were seen four weeks, eight weeks, six months, and about two years after getting the platelets or painkillers.
Average pain ratings plummeted for the platelet group, dropping to almost half what it was before treatment by four weeks. And their improvement continued.
The platelet group reported 60% less pain by eight weeks; 81% less pain by six months; and 93% less pain about two years after treatment.
More than nine in 10 said they were completely satisfied with their treatment at the two-year mark.
In contrast, average pain ratings for the painkiller group dipped 16% by four weeks.
By eight weeks, three of the five painkiller patients had sought other treatment or quit the study, ruling out further follow-ups.
The researchers note no side effects in any of the patients.
They're not exactly sure how the platelets help tennis elbow. But they say proteins called growth factors in the platelets may be involved.
A larger study "should help better evaluate" the new treatment, Mishra and Pavelko write.