Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA
Director of Orthopedic Surgery Westchester Health Associates
One of the most common problems I see in the office is tennis elbow. Most people with this problem don’t even play tennis! Tennis elbow is damage to a tendon where it attaches to the elbow. The muscles that extend your wrist start as a tendon on the outside part of the elbow, and when this is injured, it results in tennis elbow pain. Repetitive motion of the wrist or excessive lifting with the arm and wrist is what causes the problem. I commonly see this in both athletes and non-athletes as well.
The pain is localized to the outside part of the elbow. It is worse with lifting with that arm and typically does not hurt when resting. Pain can be severe and is often felt when shaking someone else’s hand. If the pain is on the inside of the elbow, it is called golfer’s elbow and is due to an injury to the wrist flexors, not the extensors.
The best way to treat tennis elbow, like any other injury, is to prevent it. If you are going to play a sport you should be in shape before the season starts. This means cardio conditioning and strengthening legs and arms. Stretching is also key to preventing injury.
If you have tennis elbow, treatment for 95% of people is without surgery. I start my patients in physical therapy, but this should be with a good therapist who deals with this problem a lot. If you are having severe pain or have had symptoms for a long time, a cortisone shot can provide dramatic improvement. I do these under ultrasound guidance to ensure accurate placement. The few patients who don’t get better with therapy and injections will require surgery. The surgery takes me only about 20 minutes, and my patients go home the same day. The surgery is very successful, but again should only be performed if you really have done adequate therapy and injections. I also do PRP injections if the cortisone does not work.
Tennis elbow is very common, and if you suspect you have it, see an orthopedic sports specialist to get it checked. If your doctor tells you need surgery, and you have not done much therapy and injections, get a second opinion. Pain in the elbow or any other part of your body after working out or playing sports should be treated initially with ice and rest. If pain persists, call an orthopedic specialist.