Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is one of the most common injuries in racquet sport athletes. This is an overuse injury affecting the lateral aspect of the elbow where the wrist extensor tendons attach. Any forceful repetitive movement involving wrist extension, as in a backhand stroke, causes significant stress at the elbow and subsequent inflammation. Changes in tennis equipment and/or technique can also add stress to the tendon such as switching to a heavier racket, bigger grip or using more top spin.
Unfortunately, the elbow area has a poor blood supply and often is injured. A healthy blood supply is required for appropriate and timely healing. Once inflamed, the tendon may heal in a poor fashion leading to re-current injury.
- First-line treatment focuses on activity modification, anti-inflammatory medicine, physical therapy and bracing.
- If this leads to limited results, generally a corticosteroid injection is tried to decrease inflammation.
- If this helps but the results are temporary, a new technology using platelet rich plasma is attempted. This involves taking the athletes own blood and isolating out the healthy growth factors. These growth factors are then injected into the area of poor tendon healing. This promotes healing in a more timely fashion, a more organized fashion and regenerates healthier tissue. Platelet rich plasma involves a series of 2 to 3 injections spaced apart by 1 to 2 weeks at a time. The injection process takes 10 to 15 minutes and has an 80% success rate.
Although tennis elbow is unbelievably common in recreational tennis players and can be quite debilitating, there are advancements in technology that will allow for excellent healing potential.