The goal of treatment of tennis elbow is to relieve pain and allow the tendon in the elbow to heal. This can usually be done without surgery (called conservative treatment).
Basic treatment options include:
Conservative treatment such as rest, the use of ice and anti-inflammatory drugs, and a rehabilitation program.
Surgery may be considered if there is persistent elbow pain after a reasonable period of conservative treatment. Surgery usually involves cutting (releasing) the tendon, and removing damaged tissue from the tendon. In some cases, tendon tears may be repaired.
Most cases of tennis elbow are treated without surgery. The major steps for nonsurgical (conservative) treatment include:
Reducing pain and inflammation. Rest is the first step in treating tennis elbow. Rest allows the small tears in the tendon caused by overuse (which cause the pain and inflammation) to heal. The use of ice and anti-inflammatory drugs also helps reduce inflammation and begins the healing process.
Wearing an elbow splint. Elbow splints hold the elbow in a bent position and do not allow the elbow joint to move. Splints are only used for a short period of time, to allow the muscles and tendons to rest and heal.
Stopping or changing activities that may be irritating the tendon. If you have tennis elbow, consider learning new techniques for certain movements and using different equipment that may reduce the stress on your forearm muscles.
Rehabilitation. A rehabilitation program includes special exercises for flexibility and arm muscle strength, and steps to improve general fitness.
Corticosteroid (a drug that reduces inflammation) shots may be considered in some cases, if other steps do not relieve pain or swelling.
A special brace (counterforce brace) may be worn during activities before or after the tendon is healed. This brace may allow you to do activities such as grasping and twisting on a limited basis. Some doctors believe the brace spreads the pressure throughout the arm instead of putting all of the pressure on the tendon. The brace should not be used so that you can continue using the poor technique or equipment that may have caused your tennis elbow.
If tennis elbow is not treated, the soreness and pain will probably get worse. If the condition has just started, rest may be enough to treat the condition. In most cases, conservative treatment will be necessary to heal the tendon and allow you to use your elbow without pain, soreness, or further injury.
Treatment is most effective for tennis elbow when it is started as soon as symptoms appear. The longer symptoms have lasted, the longer rehabilitation will take, and you may then need surgery to correct the problem.
Treatment depends on whether the injury was gradual, from overuse (chronic) with repeated movements, or if the injury was a sudden (acute) injury.
Treatment also depends on the person, whether elbow pain affects his or her job or livelihood, and whether the person is willing or able to change habits or activities to prevent elbow pain.
Nonsurgical (conservative) treatment is usually started if the injury is:
Caused by overuse
A sudden (acute) injury that has not caused large tears in the tendon or other severe damage in the elbow
Surgery may be considered if:
The injury is from overuse (chronic), and extensive conservative treatment (6 to 12 months) has not relieved elbow pain. (If soreness and pain have been present for a long time, causing the tendon to become very weak, the effectiveness of surgery may be limited.)
If conservative treatment does not work, corticosteroid shots may be tried before surgery. See Medication Choices.
Other treatments may be used for tennis elbow, such as acupuncture and electrical stimulation. See Other Treatment Choices.