Suffering from "tennis elbow" ? A new study suggests that it may be best to just wait for the elbow to heal on its own.
Tennis elbow is the painful condition that develops after "overuse" - it's a repetitive stress injury, which typically occurs in the person's dominant arm. The medical name for tennis elbow is enthesopathy of the extensor carpi radialis brevis (eECRB), or lateral epicondylitis. There are many non-surgical alternatives available, such as ultrasound, laser therapy, botulinum toxin injection, corticosteroid injection, etc., but there has been controversy over what works best in reducing pain and improving grip strength (grip strength is diminished in tennis elbow).
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center compared 11 non-surgical methods of treating tennis elbow, including a placebo group (which received a "sham treatment", such as a saline injection to mimic a treatment, but really was a no treatment group. They reviewed 36 high quality studies, and found that for persons receiving only a placebo - within four weeks most reported little or no pain, and by 26 weeks 99 percent reported little or no pain. Those who received no treatment (placebo) also had the fewest side-effects (e.g. worsened pain, reduced elbow movement, skin rash, nausea, allergic reaction). The odds of an adverse effect was significantly greater in all treatment groups than in the no treatment (placebo) group.
The researchers did mention that of all the treatments, only laser therapy improved both pain and grip strength more than placebo at one month. Some treatments, such as corticosteroid injections, while relieving pain short-term (in the first month), resulted in more pain at 26 weeks than individuals who received no treatment. The researchers wrote: " At best, all treatments provided only small pain relief while increasing the odds of adverse events." They also said that perhaps some people, such as manual laborers, may benefit by short term pain relief treatments. But long-term - doing nothing is best.