How is tennis elbow diagnosed?
The orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho will consider many factors in making a diagnosis of lateral epicondylitis. These factors include how the symptoms developed, whether it be work related, due to sports activities, or secondary to an accident. It’s important to give the physicians information on prior injuries or if there is a history of arthritis or nerve disease about the elbow as this may impact treatment.
During the physical examination, the orthopedic specialist will use a variety of tests to pinpoint the diagnosis of tennis elbow. Some tests include asking the patient to straighten the wrist and fingers against resistance with the arm fully straight to see if this causes pain. If multiple tests are positive, and the location of the pain and mechanism of injury is characteristic, it tells your doctor that those muscles may not be healthy. Most commonly, tennis elbow is diagnosed by pain when palpating directly over the area of the lateral epicondyle or just distal to this bony protuberance.
What treatment options are available for tennis elbow?
Most patients seen for tennis elbow by the orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho can be treated successfully with non-surgical methods. Depending on the severity, one or more of the following treatment options may be used:
- R I C E: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation – It is important to rest the injured arm and elbow. Ice, compression, and elevation can help alleviate pain symptoms particularly if the elbow pain is severe.
- NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed to help with pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy: There are specific exercises that can help alleviate the symptoms of tennis elbow as well as strengthening the muscle. Physical therapy may include ultrasound, ice, massage, or muscle stimulation techniques to improve healing.
- Brace: A specialized brace, centered over the forearm muscle can help reduce symptoms by resting the muscles and tendons. Wrist braces may also be used as an alternative to rest the muscles which attach to the lateral epicondyle.
- Steroid injections: Corticosteroid injections for tennis elbow may be affective as an anti-inflammatory treatment to help injured muscles heal; however they must be used judiciously as they can also cause further problems.
- PRP: platelet rich plasma is an excellent alternative for non-surgical treatment of lateral epicondylitis and has the same efficacy as corticosteroid injections (in some studies better efficacy) without the associated risks.
If non-surgical treatments fail to alleviate the symptoms associated with tennis elbow, or if left untreated, lateral epicondylitis may require surgical intervention. The surgery is done to repair torn tendons in the elbow and can be performed arthroscopically or open. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive treatment that involves small incisions and specialized equipment used to operate inside the elbow joint. Open treatment is done minimally invasively through a small incision centered over the area of the abnormal muscle attachment.
If you have symptoms tennis elbow, or if you would like more information about the treatment options or lateral epicondylitis and elbow pain, please contact the orthopedic specialists at The Shoulder Clinic of Idaho serving patients in Boise, Meridian, Nampa and the surrounding communities of the Treasure Valley.