Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow, is a nagging elbow injury characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon on the outer part of the elbow. It is caused by overuse and as the name implies, can be caused by playing tennis. However, any activity involving repetitive wrist and elbow movements can increase one’s risk of developing lateral epicondylitis and the condition is common amongst those who engage in such movements regularly. Unfortunately, many current treatments for tennis elbow may not be completely effective, and patients can experience pain for long periods of time. However, recently an emerging treatment option called extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) has been explored as a potential treatment alternative for tennis elbow.
A group of researchers from Iran recently published a clinical study detailing the short-term effects of ESWT. The details and results of the study are as follows:
Forty (twenty-eight female, twelve male) patients, between the ages of 20 and 60 years old, with tennis elbow were enrolled in the study. None of the enrolled patients had any previous treatments other than pain medication. The mean duration of the disease in patients enrolled in the study was 6.5 ± 7.9 months. Each patient received 2000 pulses of ESWT daily for one week. Sixty days following treatment, the average pain score (VAS) was reduced to less than half of what it was before treatment. In addition, the average patient function score improved about three-fold from what it was at the beginning of the study. Moreover, there was a sixty-eight percent reduction in pain medication consumption sixty days following ESWT treatment when compared to baseline. Hence, the researchers of this study concluded that ESWT can reduce pain and improve daily activity in newly diagnosed tennis elbow.
This study lends optimism to patients who are newly afflicted with tennis elbow, and could represent a viable minimally invasive treatment modality for many. Higher powered studies with larger patient numbers, randomization and blinding are needed to build more substantial evidence supporting ESWT for lateral epicondylitis. However, this study provides preliminary evidence suggesting its potential pain relieving benefits.