Tennis Elbow Surgery: What to Know

Tennis elbow is swelling and pain in your elbow. It's caused by damage to the tendons in your arm that connect your muscles to your elbow bone.

As the name suggests, you can get tennis elbow from playing too much tennis. But any activity in which you repeat the same elbow movement a lot can cause this injury.

You can usually treat tennis elbow with rest, pain relievers, an elbow brace, and a few adjustments to your game or other activities. If the pain doesn't improve in 6 to 12 months or it affects your ability to do simple things such as lift your cup, it might be time to talk about surgery with your doctor.

Types of Surgery for Tennis Elbow

Surgery for tennis elbow removes the damaged tendon to ease pain and help you move your elbow more easily. The surgery can be done in one of two ways: by open surgery or arthroscopy.

You can be awake or asleep during the procedure, depending on the specifics of your case. Either way, you'll get medicine so you don't feel pain.

Open surgery. Your surgeon makes a cut above the bone on the side of your elbow. Then she removes the damaged piece of tendon and reattaches the healthy part back to the bone. The doctor might also remove a tiny piece of bone in your elbow to improve blood flow and help the area heal faster.

Arthroscopic surgery. During this procedure, the surgeon makes a few tiny cuts in the skin over your elbow. Very small instruments and a camera go into the holes. The surgeon removes the damaged parts of your tendon.

With either type of surgery, the opening is closed with sutures (a row of stitches) or staples. Then it's covered with a bandage or other dressing. You should be able to go home on the same day as your surgery.

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How to Prepare for Surgery

Your doctor might ask you to stop taking medicines that could cause you to bleed during surgery, including:

Your doctor might also ask you not to drink or eat anything after midnight on the night before your surgery.

If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit before you have surgery. Smoking can slow your healing and recovery.

Possible Complications

Tennis elbow surgery can have possible complications. They include:

  • Infection
  • Damage to nerves or blood vessels in the elbow
  • Reduced strength or flexibility

Call your doctor if you notice any of these signs of a problem after your surgery:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling that doesn't go away
  • Redness or other skin color changes around your elbow
  • Numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers
  • Fever
  • Drainage from the wound

Tennis elbow can come back after surgery. Some people will need a second procedure to see an improvement.

Recovery

After surgery, you'll need to wear a splint or sling on the elbow for about a week. This device will keep your arm still so you don't injure it.

Your elbow might feel sore for a few weeks. You can put ice on it to bring down swelling and take pain relievers to ease any discomfort you feel.

Once your splint comes off, you can stretch your elbow. Stretching will increase your flexibility and improve movement in your elbow.

You should start to do strengthening exercises with light weights about 3 weeks after your surgery. A physical therapist can show you the right exercises to improve your elbow strength.

You should be able to go back to work 6 to 12 weeks after your surgery. If you use your elbow a lot at work, you might have to make adjustments on your job. For example, you might not be able to lift heavy objects. You'll need to wait about 4 to 6 months before you can exercise and play sports again.

Tennis elbow surgery improves pain and movement in 80-90% of people who have it.

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After surgery, be careful not to injure the elbow again. Your doctor might recommend exercises that strengthen your shoulder to support and take pressure off your elbow.

If your tennis game caused the injury, work with a tennis pro to improve your swing so you don't overwork the elbow again.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on January 6, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)."

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: "Tennis Elbow -- Lateral Epicondylitis."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Tennis Elbow: An Overview."

Medscape: "Lateral Epicondylitis Surgery Treatment & Management."

Mount Sinai: "Tennis elbow surgery -- discharge."

WakeMed: "What to Expect from Arthroscopy Surgery for Tennis & Golfer's Elbow."

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