Suffering From Tennis Elbow? 5 Treatments to try Before Surgery

About 3% of men and women in the U.S. have tennis elbow, but most of them don’t play tennis. Any kind of repetitive arm motion performed during work, sports, or other activities can cause the condition known as tennis elbow.

You get tennis elbow when you overuse and tear the tendons that attach your extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle to your elbow. The torn tendons become inflamed and sore, which may make it difficult to move your arm, lift things, or even hold something in your hand.

Although you may have heard about top athletes getting surgery to repair the torn ECRB tendons that cause tennis elbow, that doesn’t mean you need to contact your insurance company yet.

After you’ve been diagnosed with tennis elbow, the orthopaedic specialists at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow in Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia, recommend the following five treatments first:

1. RICE protocol

The RICE protocol stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. If your outer elbow is sore or stiff, try not to use your arm for 24 to 48 hours. If the injury is recent, you can apply ice packs wrapped in a towel for about 10 minutes at a time, separated by another 10 minutes without ice, during that same time period.

Compress the injured area by wrapping it in an ACE (elastic) bandage. Wrap snugly, but not tightly. You don’t want to cut off the circulation. If your arm goes numb or tingly, loosen the bandage.

Elevating your elbow may be a little awkward, but try to keep it above your heart as much as possible for the first two days. Elevation reduces throbbing, pain, and lowers your risk of bruising. If your injury is more than a few days old, your doctor may also recommend alternating cold and hot compresses.

2. Medication

When you have tennis elbow, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen perform a double duty. Not only do they alleviate pain, they also reduce inflammation and swelling, which helps your body heal. If you have chronic pain, talk to your Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow doctor before taking NSAIDs or other pain medication over the long term.

If you don’t respond to NSAIDs, your doctor may recommend corticosteroids. Your doctor injects the corticosteroids directly into your injured tendons to alleviate swelling and pain.

3. Brace or splint

Your specialists at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow can provide you a forearm brace that takes some of the pressure off your tendons, so you don’t accidentally re-injure your arm when performing daily tasks. Your doctor may also recommend a splint that you wear at night that allows your tendons to rest.

The point of a brace or splint is to support your tendons, not immobilize your arm; you need to move your elbow periodically after the first 48 hours of injury to avoid stiffness.

4. Lifestyle and occupational modifications

If you injured your elbow playing sports, you may need to modify your tennis racquet or other athletic gear by loosening the tension on the strings. If your tennis elbow arose from carpentry or another occupation, you may need to modify your tools or switch to power tools.

Your Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow specialist can help you learn how to move your arm and elbow in ways that are less likely to cause injury. For instance, holding tools with a looser grip helps ease the tension on the ECRB tendons.

5. Stretching exercises

Once your injury begins to heal, your Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow specialists recommend modified Mills exercises. Mills exercises strengthen your tendons by slowly stretching the muscles located on the top of your forearm.

You need to perform Mills exercises for three to five minutes, repeating at least four times a day. Your doctor may also recommend heating the area to be stretched before the exercises, and applying ice for 10 to 15 minutes after stretching.

If these steps don’t resolve your injury and restore pain-free motion to your elbow, arm, and hand, your Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow specialist may recommend surgical repair. Approximately eight of 10 men and women who undergo surgery for tennis elbow experience significant improvements in pain and range of movement.

Treating tennis elbow sooner rather than later improves your chances for full recovery. Contact us for an appointment by calling our friendly staff or booking a Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow consultation online.

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