We hear this comment or one very similar to it on a frequent basis. Good ole’ tennis elbow, also know as lateral epicondylitis. Despite these names, this is not a problem limited to tennis players and does not typically involve the bone on the outside of the elbow named the lateral epicondyle. It is actually a tendon problem. The common extensor tendon on the outside of the elbow is highly involved in gripping, grabbing and lifting. When you shake someone’s hand, this tendon is under a lot of stress. When you lift the coffee mug with a handle, the positioning of your wrist transmits stress to this tendon. When you pull your sheets up to you when in bed, the position and action of the wrist and forearm send stress to this tendon. Finally, when this tendon is inflamed and/or partially torn, it HURTS! I mean, it really hurts. You are not a wimp for complaining about tennis elbow. Fortunately, this is one of my favorite conditions to treat. Why? For many reasons: we usually can cure this problem. Patients are so grateful to see this pain go away. Finally, it’s gratifying to see patients return to things they love to do after successful treatment such as tennis, golf, weight lifting, gardening and even typing!
Turning our attention to treatment options, there are traditional and innovative options. At Impact Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, we specialize in both types:
1) REST and changing the biomechanics- how and how much you lift, grip and grab
2) A wrist splint- yes, immobilizing the wrist and forearm unload the tendon far more than immobilizing the elbow
3) A cortisone injection- in our hands, 90% of patients experience relief with an ultrasound-guided injection. However, since tendon damage is often the cause of the stubborn pain, cortisone, at times, may only provide temporary benefit.
4) Physical Therapy- helpful in changing the biomechanical problems that led to the tendon damage. However, the benefit can be limited if tendon is partially torn.
1) The Tenex procedure- a true game-changing minimally-invasive procedure. This is our favorite option for those patients that have not improved with the traditional treatments. Local anesthesia only, a tiny incision, 2 minutes of tendon treatment with a small probe, no stitches, typically covered by insurance and a 90% success rate. How does that sound? We've loved this procedure for 7+ years.
2) Orthobiologic/”Regenerative” injections- platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and amniotic membrane are very solid choices, utilizing solutions rich in human growth factors to stimulate healing of the tendon.
3) Nitroglycerin patches- placed on the skin over the tendon, these are good choices for those patients needing something extra, but prefer a treatment that is non-invasive. These work by producing nitric oxide in the tissues, which then can be responsible for tendon healing.
In summary, we hate that you have "tennis elbow," but always appreciate the opportunity to treat you. It's our mission to make this common cause of elbow pain leave your life and never return! Let us know if we can help.
-F. Clarke Holmes, M.D.