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Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

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Treatment for Tennis Elbow

The good news about treatment is that usually tennis elbow will heal on its own. You just need to give your elbow a break and do what you can to speed the healing. Types of treatment that help are: 

  • Icing the elbow to reduce pain and swelling. Experts recommend doing it for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain is gone.
  • Using an elbow strap to protect the injured tendon from further strain.
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, to help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can cause side effects, such as bleeding and ulcers. You should only use them occasionally, unless your doctor says otherwise, since they may delay healing.
  • Performing range of motion exercises to reduce stiffness and increase flexibility. Your doctor may recommend that you do them three to five times a day.
  • Getting physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the muscles.
  • Having injections of steroids or painkillers to temporarily ease some of the swelling and pain around the joint. Studies suggest that steroid injections don't help in the long term.

Most of the time, these treatments will do the trick. But if you have a severe case of tennis elbow that doesn't respond to two to four months of conservative treatment, you may need surgery. In the procedure, the damaged section of tendon usually is removed and the remaining tendon repaired. About 50% of people with tennis elbow eventually need this treatment. Surgery works in about 85%-90% of cases.

Recovering from Tennis Elbow

Of course, what you really want to know is when you can get back to your regular activities after having tennis elbow. That depends on your individual case and the extent of the damage to the tendon. People heal at different rates.

Whatever you do, don't rush your recovery. If you start pushing yourself before your tennis elbow is healed, you could make the damage worse. You are ready to return to your former level of activity when:

  • Gripping objects or bearing weight on your arm or elbow is no longer painful.
  • Your injured elbow feels as strong as your other elbow.
  • Your elbow is no longer swollen.
  • You can flex and move the elbow without any trouble.

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