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Tennis Elbow

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

Tennis elbow is caused by an overload of the arm and most often disappears by itself in the course of a few months. You can try to relieve the arm. Your general practitioner can prescribe painkilling medication, refer you to physiotherapy and give you an injection in the elbow. In the case of pain lasting several months, an orthopaedic surgeon can perform surgery to stop it.

Tennis elbow is the most common cause of pain in the elbow with adults. Tennis elbow is caused by an overload of the elbow by repeating movements of lower arm/wrist and is for example seen with carpenter work, painting, using a computer mouse or writing. In spite the fact that it is called a tennis elbow, only very few people with a tennis elbow have played tennis.

The pain arises a few days after the overload and is described as a dull ache on the outside of the elbow that radiates out into the lower arm. The pain is worsened by using the elbow and therefore, some people have trouble drinking from a glass or may actually drops things.

Most cases of tennis elbow disappears by itself without treatment in the course of a few months but in a few cases, the nuisances can last for months.

What can you do?

Since it is an overload, you should avoid activities and strain that cause pain. At work, you can try to change your working routine but for some people it is impossible to avoid straining the arm. However, most people are able to perform their work with adjustments.

In the case of pain, you can try painkilling medication bought over the counter. However, it makes no sense to continue to strain the arm while taking painkilling medication.

What can your doctor do?

Contact your own doctor if the pain does not disappear after 1-2 weeks, in spite of efforts to relieve or use of painkilling medication or if the pain is worsened by your work.

Your doctor can give advice about relieve, instruct in exercises, refer to physiotherapy, prescribe painkilling medication and give an injection with corticosteroid into the elbow.

To being with, you doctor will give advice on relieve, prescribe painkilling medication and refer you to a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist performs manipulation of the elbow and gives advice about exercises. In the long term, this treatment is effective.

If the patient is still in pain, after finishing the treatment with the physiotherapist, the doctor can give an injection with corticosteroid into the elbow. The effect becomes apparent within a few days and last for a few weeks. It is important that you, at the same time, avoid too big strain on the arm and perform you exercises.

Studies have show that shock wave treatment, ultra sound, electrotherapy, laser and acupuncture have no effect on tennis elbow.

What can a specialist doctor do?

If you are still in pain, after a few months, your doctor can refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon.

The orthopaedic surgeon can perform surgery on the elbow. In the case of surgery, about half of the patients are cured and 75% experience improvement of their condition.