Tennis Elbow | Treatment

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What are the treatments for tennis elbow?

You can try some things at home to relieve swelling and pain:

  • Rest the area by avoiding the movement that has caused the condition
  • Take an over-the-counter medicine that reduces swelling, such as ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin), naproxen (brand name: Aleve) or aspirin
  • Use an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 times a day
  • Wrap your elbow in a compression bandage, such as an Ace bandage
  • Do gentle stretching exercises several times a day

If these treatments do not help, then your doctor may suggest:

  • Keeping the area still for 2 to 3 weeks with a splint of the forearm and elbow
  • Getting a steroid injection to relieve swelling and pain
  • Using pulsed ultrasound to break up scar tissue, promote healing and increase blood flow in the area

Once the pain is relieved, physical therapy can help strengthen muscles and tendons. These include stretching, range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Most people improve in 4 to 6 weeks.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • The pain doesn’t improve or gets worse after a week or so of home care
  • The area becomes red or swollen
  • You have trouble moving your arm
  • You see a lump or bulge on your arm

Will I need surgery for tennis elbow?

Surgery is not usually needed. But if you have pain that keeps you from living normally or that doesn’t improve after 6 months of treatment, your doctor may suggest surgery.

Usually, the surgery is done on an outpatient basis, which means you won’t have to stay in the hospital. The operation involves making a small cut on the outside of the elbow, removing the damaged tendon tissue and reattaching normal tendon tissue to bone.

After surgery, you will need physical therapy to stretch the elbow and bring back range of motion. Because the elbow will be weak at first, you will need to do exercises to strengthen it. Most people are able to resume normal activity 4 to 6 months after surgery.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/11
Created: 10/09

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