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Give Tennis Elbow a Rest

Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse and injury of the muscles and tissues around the elbow, and lasts from 6-24 months. Tasks involving tools like hammers and screwdrivers are often related to cases, although half of all tennis players also experience the condition -- as the name implies. Corticosteroid injections in the elbow, which suppress the body's natural inflammatory response to injury, have been deemed safe and effective for short-term medical treatment of tennis elbow, but their long-term success rate is unknown.

The authors of a study in The Lancet assigned patients who suffered from tennis elbow into three groups based on treatment to be provided: wait-and-see (no treatment besides ceasing activity), physiotherapy, or corticosteroid injections. Patients underwent six weeks of treatment, and recovery was evaluated over the following year.

In the nearly 200 patients who completed the study, injected corticosteroids proved most effective at the end of six weeks. However, physiotherapy and wait-and-see groups showed the highest recovery success rates in the long run. One year after the start of the study, 91% of the physiotherapy patients and 83% of the wait-and-see patients claimed success, compared to only 69% of the corticosteroid patients.

These results suggest that rest and physiotherapy may be more effective than corticosteroid injections for long-term treatment of tennis elbow. Corticosteroids may provide a short-term solution to pain and disability, but will probably only prolong the condition by masking these symptoms and allowing more damage to be done.


Smidt N, van der Windt D, Assendelft W, et al. Corticosteroid injections, physiotherapy, or a wait-and-see policy for lateral epicondylitis: A randomized controlled trial. The Lancet 2002:359, pp. 657-662.

To learn more about the treatment of sports injuries, go to https://www.chiroweb.com/tyh/sports.html.


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